Holiday postcard

This blog has been quiet in August so far, largely because I’ve been away for two weeks in the United States. Visiting friends in Alabama, to be precise (where, yes, it is a tad hot at this time of year). For one day-trip, we visited Florence, Alabama — which doesn’t look much like the one in Tuscany — where I marvelled at a piece of water engineering that utterly dwarfs anything in the Aire valley…


Greetings from Alabama – Wish You Were Here!                         (Photo courtesy of Angel Hundley)

This is me at Wilson Dam, historically the first of a whole series of massive structures to be built across the width of the Tennessee River… which winds its 652-mile journey through Tennessee, Alabama, Tennessee again, and finally Kentucky, where it intersects with the Ohio River… which then shortly thereafter flows into the mighty Mississippi, which then heads down to the Gulf of Mexico. So it’s kind of like the Aire, flowing into the Ouse, which then quickly flows into the Humber. Except it isn’t, because the scale of everything is *massively* bigger.

If you thought the controversy about Saltaire weir’s proposed hydro-electric installation was heated (check out previous posts under the “Saltaire Hydro” tab on this blog — although that scheme seems now to have drifted off into the long grass of oblivion), then imagine the local tensions that would have been caused by damming the entire width of the Tennessee in order to generate power back in the 1930s. In the process, of course, the constructors flooded the entire valley upstream of the dam — with incalculable effects on local wildlife habitats as well as human settlements.

Nowadays the official view on such mega-dams is generally negative, because of the adverse environmental impacts (notwithstanding the pressing argument for finding renewable energy supplies). But the arguments for dams in the Tennessee Valley are complex. The land was notoriously infertile, partly because it was so often subject to destructive floods that swept away sun-dried topsoil. So by harnessing the power of the river through a planned series of staggered dams, the idea was also that it would be contained and controlled better — creating reservoirs from which irrigation systems could be channelled to create more fertile farmland. The TVA system, as it is known (Tennessee Valley Authority) was developed in the 1930s as a cornerstone of the Roosevelt administration’s “New Deal” approach to tackling the Great Depression… massive amounts of federal money went into a building programme that no private company would ever have ventured, providing fiscal stimulus to the wider economy of the depressed Southern states (as people were put to work on the scheme). It was the very opposite of the austerity politics we’ve become used to in recent years in the UK.

IMG_1516Wilson Dam was centrepiece of the TVA system — both predating and inspiring the rest of it. (This one actually began as a World War I-era scheme, and is named after then-President Woodrow Wilson). Now a National Historic Landmark, the dam is viewed here from the South bank of the Tennessee – from Muscle Shoals (a town central to the history of popular music in the US, because of its recording studios). In the foreground is the section of the dam in which hydro-electric power turbines are still driven by the flow of water from the upper river. You can see the churn of water re-entering the river below. There are massive power-plant buildings on this side of the river, close to where this picture was taken.

Beyond that first section is the widest bit of the dam, which is basically just a long containing wall. Then at the far side, you can see a concrete construction jutting out from the dam. This is Wilson Lock — a huge lock big enough to raise and lower not just boats but full-scale ships. In fact, as you can see from the image below, the lock is actually two separate lock systems — a smaller, two-rise system to the north, and then the huge single chamber system. Certainly puts the Bingley Five Rise into perspective…


Saltaire Hydro scheme approved… maybe…

Just a brief note to highlight this story in yesterday’s Telegraph and Argus (click to go there)

Bradford Council yesterday gave its initial planning approval to the hydro power scheme for the weir in Roberts Park (see earlier posts under ‘Saltaire Hydro’ category on this site). However, it appears that the scheme’s opponents will fight on, and are raising the question of whether or not all the heritage bodies involved — given that the hydro site is in a World Heritage Site — have been properly consulted.

Personally I’d be rather surprised if due process has not indeed been followed with this. The heritage issue is the obvious one to address in this instance, after all, and UNESCO gave the plan its approval quite a while back. The T&A story raises a number of issues around who has or has not been consulted — but then it also claims that the installation will be a “giant” turbine, which is a bit of a daft exaggeration (given that the design is actually quite small scale). So who knows what to believe…

It’ll all come out in the wash, no doubt.

A postscript to the above: courtesy of a Kirkgate Centre tweet, I’ve just come across THIS ruling by the Charity Commission – which was issued on March 26th (in response to THIS appeal by the Friends of Roberts Park). It would appear that due process has NOT – as far as the Charity Commission is concerned – been followed. Bradford Council may have got itself into a conflict of interest situation over proposing to parcel off part of the park for energy purposes…. Clearly this is going to run and run.


Up in Salts Mill… JBA

Last week I had an intriguing meeting with Steve Maslen, of JBA Consulting — an engineering company based in offices on the top floor of Salts Mill. They’re right in the northwest corner, looking down directly over the Victoria Road canal bridge, with the slightly lower roof of the Visitor Centre building down to the left, and a grandstand view of Saltaire’s weir just to the right (I really should have taken a picture, but it felt a bit rude to ask!). This is the company that has consulted on the actual hydrological designs for the proposed hydro-electric turbine on the weir – and there it is right outside their window! Also in their “current” file, here in the Shipley area, is a consultation being carried out for Friends of Bradford’s Becks (with the blessing of Bradford Council) looking at the logistics of removing the box culvert over Bradford Beck (the covered bit on the green space next to Canal Road, just as you’re getting from Shipley to Frizinghall). Watch this space on that one.

Anyway, Steve Maslen (who used to run his own separate company, Maslen Environmental) is a very interesting and helpful man, and he gave me this Youtube link to a film about the work of JBA Trust — a not-for-profit organisation established to help educate and inform the public about environmental issues. When I asked if this was a form of corporate tax avoidance (as their charitable trusts often are), Steve politely but firmly said no. This is a company that prides itself on its ethical approach to business — so giving something back and sharing knowledge is a key part of what they do. “We’re not just an engineering company,” as Steve put it. Anyway, here’s the video (blog post continues below…).


Weir(d) consultations…

“Worth every penny!” says Neill Morrison about his new 3-D model…

2014-10-17 13.34.47This is a model-maker’s rendering of what the Baildon side of Saltaire weir might look like after the completion of Bradford Council’s planned hydro-electric turbine installation. It was on display today (and will be again tomorrow) at Shipley Library, as part of a public consultation about the scheme. Neill Morrison, who has been leading work on the project since its inception, for the Council’s energy and climate change department, feels that the 3-D approach gives a much more accurate and friendly-looking impression of the scheme than the computer-generated graphics used at the last such consultation exercise — at Saltaire’s URC church back in July 2012. At that stage, plans for the scheme were still in their developmental stages, but a lot of the opposition generated that summer (previously discussed on this blog here and here) seems to have been sparked more by a dislike of the first-stage artwork than by the substance of the plans. Neill’s team have carefully redesigned the look of the planned installation, to make the buildings housing it lower and less obtrusive in the 2D graphics (at the consultation, you could compare the old and new impressions, to see how much had changed). But I tend to think he’s right, also, that the 3D model helps. It has little people figures in it, and pretend grass that you sort of want to touch, and it reminds you of your uncle’s Hornby train set. So much more ‘human’, somehow, than computer graphics…

2014-10-17 13.36.14This is one of the more technical renderings of the new plans – in which talk of such things as “Q95 excedence” (see far left) might be prone to make even the most enthusiastic supporter of renewable energy glaze over a bit. But even this graphic gives you a useful sense of the depth of the river in relation to the contours of the land, and confirms the generally modest intrusion into the landscape of the installation itself. Meanwhile, for those who really want to get into technical detail, the consultation gave you the opportunity to read (or even take away) a chunky report from independent sound pollution consultants — which basically demonstrated that the noise from the hydro will be at such low levels that even close up to it you’ll be hard pressed to hear its workings over the other environmental sounds in the area (e.g. the river). The sound will be at a different frequency, operating at a decibel level well below other factors in the area. So you really will be able to take a nice stroll along the river bank, and peer down at the screw through the installation’s picture windows, and feel curious rather than oppressed…They’re starting to think now about the interpretation boards that might accompany the housing — as befits a feature designed for a World Heritage Site. And the actual ‘consultation’ part of this consultation involved asking the public about details such as the extent of railings to be used on the site, what substance should cover the roof of the machine house (turf, astroturf, gravel…), and so forth. They’re definitely into the fine details now…

2014-10-17 13.35.10All in all, it’s actually quite hard at this point to know what one could possibly object to with the scheme. Apparently someone from the Telegraph and Argus turned up to cover the event today, and was a little disappointed not to find anybody – even during the lunch time ‘rush’ period – who wanted to voice any opposition to the scheme. I dare say there will be objections, of course, perhaps to the temporary disruption that will inevitably be caused by the build itself — but that will take up to 26 weeks, Neill told me, not the 26 months reported by some of the scheme’s opponents. And the build won’t in any way disrupt the Saltaire Festival: if planning permission is granted, they’ll either start building in the new year and have it finished by the summer, or (should a lot of objections need to be countered) they’ll start building next autumn after the Festival.

2014-10-17 13.52.59Here’s the valiant team from the Council battling disinformation at Shipley Library. Neill on the left, with his colleagues Kate and Tom, who all seem very committed to the project. The hydro, I’m told, will cost up to £1.5 million to construct, and should pay for itself within 10-12 years — although the currently volatile price of energy, Tom points out, will inevitably affect the length of time it takes to recoup costs. As for the rumour mill’s claims that the scheme has cost council tax payers around £1 million in consultancy fees (I’ve heard this claim put forward quite seriously), Neill blinked in bewilderment when I mentioned this figure. The true sum, he says, has been around £60 – £70,000.

So anyway, inspired by this consultation exercise, I subsequently took myself down to Baildon Bridge to indulge in a little unofficial consulting of my own…

2014-10-17 14.21.54Here I am in a dubious ‘selfie’, standing on the bridge, with Shipley weir in the background… This is the less contested weir in the area, somewhat neglected and largely ignored by comparison with the one just upstream at Saltaire. But as has reported previously on this blog, some folk at the local working men’s club (just on the upstream side of the bridge) have argued for this weir’s removal. The suggestion is that, in keeping the water level artificially high as it comes under the bridge, the weir increases flood risk in the area (not least to the club), and it’s certainly the case that this bridge is the major flooding pinch point in Shipley — as it easily becomes dammed up with debris in high water… Anyhoo, point is, it’s been suggested to me that any talk of removing this weir would likely spark local opposition from those who see it as part of the area’s industrial heritage (there was a mill on the Baildon side of the river here probably since the 13th century…), or who like the aesthetic of the wide, curving structure. So today I decided to (unscientifically) test the waters a little by asking passers by what they thought of the weir and whether it would make any difference to them if it wasn’t there any more…

Now, my first discovery was that there are very few passers-by on this busy bit of road, at least on a Friday afternoon. The volume of road traffic far outweighs the footfall. And actually the footfall is mostly on the upstream side of the bridge… so I did wonder about crossing over to catch those people, but then I wouldn’t actually have a weir to point at so that would have been a bit daft. Among the people I was able to talk to, their main reaction to the question of ‘weir or no weir’ was profound indifference. In fact some of them looked a little surprised to realise there even was a weir there (or even that they were crossing a river, come to that). You sort of have to make an effort to look around and even notice it, even on the bridge — and the bridge is about the only vantage point in the area that offers an unimpeded view of the weir anyway (except perhaps for the car park on the right in the picture below). As I said, this is not Saltaire…

2014-10-17 14.22.25So would anyone miss this weir? One or two people expressed the view that, given the choice between it being there and not, they would rather it was, because at least it was something to look at. Which is fair enough. Other people, though, thought that it was rather unsightly to look at. There was no consensus on this. I did have one man explain in great detail to me why the weir had to be there to control the flow of the water round the curve in the river (all of which he was clearly making up, although he seemed quite convinced of his case). And another man seemd to think that the river level had been hollowed out on the downstream side, as opposed to artificially raised by damming on the upstream side. All of which will come as a surprise to engineers. But as I say, the point is that – basically – nobody seemed that bothered about this weir at all. This is a busy through road, not a beauty spot, and I was clearly a curiosity to most for even asking the question…

So, a curious afternoon all round really. But on a weirdly warm mid-October afternoon it was certainly pleasant to be out in the fresh air – even if those nagging fears about climate change won’t ever quite stop murmuring…

Saltaire inside-out

mirror pool etc 010It was a gorgeous, calm, spring day in Saltaire this Thursday, but the weir (epicentre of the ongoing hydro-electric screw debate… see previous posts) bore the evidence of some kind of natural turbulence upstream. This tree trunk was caught precipitously on the lip of the weir, but I’ve flipped the image upside down to put the sky’s reflection back in the sky. (Well, it entertained me anyway…)

Perhaps I’d been put in the mood for messing with angles and perspectives by my visit that afternoon to Shipley College (which is of course located in the heart of Saltaire), where the second year Games Development students have been working for much of this last academic year on creating their own, on-line responses to our Multi-Story Water performances of last September. Divided into three teams, to work in relation to our three routes – Green, Blue and Red – they’ve been focusing particularly on 3-D graphic renderings of some of the area’s iconic buildings, that are connected up by the river and canal. They’ve also done some complementary 2-D artwork, such as this rather lovely image that collapses together structures in and around Roberts Park…


mirror pool etc 009mirror pool etc 008 From left, there’s the park’s gazebo, Half Moon Cafe (with the statue of Titus Salt standing over it, back turned!), the Boathouse Inn across the other side of the Aire, and finally the Park Lodge. This is an image by the Cyberchondriacs team, pictured to the right, whose project website can be found here.

The next image down shows course tutor Mel Baron and myself (Steve Bottoms) along with two members of the wonderfully named Robot Llama team, who have been focusing on Blue Route (i.e. around the canal). Their website is here.

Last but certainly not least, in the image below, there’s the Pixelarity team (website here), who have focused on Red Route’s river locations downstream in Shipley… although since Red Route was “Mill to Mill” they also seem to have appropriated the Daddy of them all, Salts Mill (which to my mind was on Blue Route, since the canal passes right between the main mill buildings… but not to worry!). Pixelarity are pictured grouped round a monitor displaying one of their 3-D renderings… Scroll down further to see some of the amazing video pieces the students have created!

mirror pool etc 007

There are many more draft videos posted on You Tube, in various states of completion, but I’ve selected and pasted in a few below — to illustrate my “Saltaire inside out” theme. I love the way that the iconic structures from the World Heritage Site have been rendered so that they’re both instantly recognisable and yet viewed in completely strange new contexts… Immediately below, for instance, is Pixelarity’s extraordinary, kinetic tour around Salts Mill itself… racing along the rows of windows like some hyper-modernist dream; hoving around and above the chimney at angles you’d never normally get to see…

Keep watching and the video eventually moves inside the doors – at which point the fact that Salts is now a gallery space provides the excuse for rendering an entirely imaginary, uber-modern intereior with gallery exhibits drawn from the students’ own previous portfolio work! A similar inside/outside twist is also apparent in Robot Llama’s version of Salt’s Congregational Church – knowingly accompanied here by Doctor Who’s Tardis! Because the students couldn’t gain entrance to the church on any of the occasions they tried, they’ve simply imagined their own interior…

Cyberchondriacs’ renderings of the structures in Roberts Park are mostly shorter than those by the other teams (this is all still work in progress), but the imaginative twists are no less interesting. This video of the Park Lodge, for example, does some very atmospheric things with trees… while immediately below it is another in which the gazebo is turned into a strangely spooky light source in a darkened landscape (complete with the now-empty plinth of Titus Salt’s statue, embedded in the earth like some listing gravestone…).

I very much enjoyed meeting with the students, and will be digging out some sound and text materials from the performances for them to use – as they see fit – alongside their visuals. Their work, very appropriately, will be a featured part of Shipley College’s contribution to Saltaire Arts Trail at the end of May… From my point of view it’s just been great to see what we did last year on Multi-Story Water being taken as inspiration for an altogether different set of creative responses to the area.

Hydro #2

So, last weekend saw our Multi-Story Water performances happen around and about Shipley and Saltaire. Thankfully, the weather held out for us – with glorious sunshine on the Saturday, and only drizzle on the Sunday afternoon… A few hours later, the north of England was hit by what the Met Office has called “the worst September storms for 30 years”. So I guess you could say we got lucky! And the feedback on the weekend has mostly been very positive (more on that in a subsequent post).

Predictably enough, our scene discussing plans for the hydro-electric screw on Saltaire weir – at the outset of our Green Route walk – proved the most controversial part of what we presented. Indeed Rob Martin, chair of the Saltaire Village Society, was prompted to write to the Telegraph and Argus with the following letter (original link is here):

SIR – It was a pleasure to take part in Multi-Story Water over the last weekend in Saltaire. The boat ride with singing by Eddie Lawler and two walks along the River Aire up and downstream from Saltaire provided lots of information in an entertaining way. Some information, however, was not correct. At one point, the audience stood on a slope in Roberts Park at the site of a proposed turbine house for a hydro power scheme. We were told that once installed it wouldn’t be noticeable. In fact, the slope with four mature trees on which we were standing would become the flat roof of the turbine house, with a railing to stop us falling off. The audience was also told that local people are against generating hydro power from that weir. This is untrue. Saltaire Village Society opposes siting a scheme on the Roberts Park side, but advocates it for the opposite bank, where water power once drove large water wheels for Dixons Mill (where James Roberts built the New Mill).

Rob Martin, chairman, Saltaire Village Society, c/o Albert Road, Saltaire

Unfortunately, however, Rob is himself guilty of misinformation here, not least the claim that New Mill was built by James Roberts. (Titus Salt constructed it in 1868.) The claims he makes about our performance, moreover, are simply untrue. As I have noted in a response to the T&A (remains to be seen whether they publish it), “the performance did not, in fact, make either of the claims that Mr. Martin suggests. He writes: ‘At one point, the audience stood on a slope in Roberts Park at the site of a proposed turbine house for a hydro power scheme. We were told that once installed it wouldn’t be noticeable.’ Nothing of the sort was said. We stated that ‘some have argued that the hydro installation will spoil the view’, but also that ‘the scheme is designed to enhance the visitor experience’ (which it could hardly do if it wasn’t noticeable!). Secondly, Mr. Martin claims that ‘the audience was also told that local people are against generating hydro power from that weir’. Plainly this is not the case, not least because many local people are in total support of the scheme. Our script stated simply: ‘some have argued that this modern installation is inappropriate in a Victorian heritage site’ – a statement which neither side of the argument could dispute!”

In the interests of full disclosure, I am pasting in, below, the whole script for this section of the performance. However, in this fuller blog-post format, I also just want to query Rob’s suggestion that “the slope with four mature trees on which we were standing would become the flat roof of the turbine house.” The particular spot we were standing on, just downhill of the footpath leading to the bridge, clearly remains – in the architect’s drawings of the scheme – a piece of grassy slope with trees:

Our scene was placed to the left of this image, on the slope just behind where the lone figure stands at the railings. Actress Lynsey Jones gestured towards the area next to the weir where the turbine house would stand, according to the plans, and pointed out that “currently there’s just a lot of overgrowth” along that stretch of the river’s edge (again, a point which is difficult to dispute). In short, unless the plans for the scheme have been radically revised since the July 5th public consultation at which this and other images were displayed, I would defend the accuracy of our script. It is perfectly reasonable to disagree with our position on the hydro scheme (it’s fair to say that the performance struck a position broadly in favour the proposals), or to dislike the playfully theatrical tone in which we presented the scene (which, I can now see, could be considered insensitive to the very real pain that the arguments have caused for some in the Saltaire area). But that does not mean that anything we said was, per se, untrue.

OK, honour defended, here’s the script section I promised. Judge for yourself:

LIONEL: Time flows on…

ALISTAIR: …metaphorically, like a river. But also cyclically, like a wheel!

DOROTHY:  Now water power is making a comeback here…

LIONEL: In the form of a hydro-electric power generator…

DOROTHY:  An Archimedes screw!

DOROTHY:  Here on Saltaire weir…

LIONEL:  Here on the Roberts Park side, because Bradford Council owns the park –

ALISTAIR:  And it’s Bradford Council that’s proposing a screw in the river.

DOROTHY:  Now, this is proving to be quite a controversial. Some have argued that the hydro installation will spoil the view…  although if you look at the designs, the placement would be here, where currently there’s just a lot of overgrowth…  (pointing it out)

ALISTAIR: You see, the scheme is designed to enhance the visitor experience.

LIONEL: Some have argued that this modern installation is inappropriate in a Victorian Heritage Site…

ALISTAIR:  In that case, so is the weir. Take it down!

DOROTHY:  (ignoring him) … but the CWHPHACIEESS proposes a more embracing, encompassing understanding of heritage.

LIONEL: Not frozen over, but flowing on into the future.

[There then followed a reproduction of sections from an interview with Neill Morrison, of Bradford Council. Admittedly, it was less than “even-handed” to include Neill’s position without presenting a counter-argument, but this part of the script is more interested in the wider “climate change” argument than the hydro scheme per se…]

REPORTER: According to Bradford Council, the future could be stormy.


REPORTER:  Said the signage at the recent public consultation about the proposed hydro installation.



SIGNAGE 2:  The weather in Bradford is changing. We must adapt our property, communities, and lifestyles for more extremes of weather, such as..

SIGNAGE 1: frequent floods

SIGNAGE 2: severe winds

SIGNAGE 1: heavy snowfalls

SIGNAGE 2: heatwaves

SIGNAGE 1: droughts.


REPORTER: (to herself)  Crikey!  (beat – then, to the public…) We spoke to Neil Morrissey.

NEILL: Morrison,

REPORTER:  Neill Morrison…

NEILL: I get that all the time.

REPORTER: Energy Management Officer for Bradford Council…

NEILL:  You look at how the weather’s changed over the last thirty years… we’re getting more extreme weather, more often. Every year it’s the wettest June or the driest January … This year we’ve had this weird situation where the rivers were really dry in March and April, when they should  be stonking – and then in June when they should be at base flow and nothing spare, it was pumping out here for weeks… I kayak for a hobby so I notice it. And down in Calderdale, they had the worst flooding in recorded history…

REPORTER: But is it Bradford’s responsibility to solve climate change?

NEILL: (a small sigh) It’s everyone’s responsibility to solve climate change.  There is no, ‘whose responsibility is it?’ That’s part of the problem, that’s why stuff doesn’t get done – everyone’s blaming someone else.  You can’t use that as an excuse any more. You have to – do something!

REPORTER: But surely something like this hydro is just a drop in the ocean of what’s needed.

NEILL: Of course. But you cannot have one thing that will fix the situation. You’ve got to have lots of schemes, lots of technologies, and they’ve got to complement each other.  So you start by looking at what we can do in this district – and at the assets we have. We have waste, which we’re working on… we have wind, but frankly the argument over wind will make this look like a storm in a teacup. Imagine what the Bronte Society would say if we said “oh we want to put wind turbines on Top Withens.” You cannot blend them in! But we think we can blend this in…  With hydro, there’s a chance here. It’s about making the best of what you’ve got.

[extract ends]

Anyway, I hope that puts the record straight. But perhaps, considered in the great scheme of things, this is all just (as Neill put it) a “storm in a teacup”… We have bigger storms to worry about.



The hottest water issue in Saltaire at present (sorry, no pun intended) is Bradford Council’s proposal to install a hydro-electric power generator — an Archimedes screw – on the River Aire at Saltaire weir. The controversy raging is around the fact that the site proposed is within the grounds of Roberts Park, which Bradford Council owns, but which it is by no means free to do with as it wishes. The argument against the installation can be simply summarised as follows: “the project changes the use of a recreational park space, and has no place in a protected park, in a protected conservation area, in a protected World Heritage Site.”

Those words appear about half-way through a document titled “Reasons to be Doubtful”, which has been carefully prepared by “a group of concerned villagers” (no author is identified). The latest, September version of this document (it continues to evolve as more information becomes available) was the key persuading factor in the decision last week by the Saltaire Village Society to come out in opposition to the proposals. (See news report here.) A copy was provided to me by Rob Martin, chair of the SVS, and also coincidentally one of the performers in our Blue Route canal tour. His fellow performer on the boat will be Eddie Lawler, who remains in favour of the hydro proposals — just one small indication of the way that this plan has divided the local community. It’s a very sensitive issue, with strong arguments on both sides.

So what’s the argument in favour? At a public consultation about the proposals at Saltaire’s URC Church on July 5th this year, the signage on the way into the church’s basement exhibition space made the Council’s case pretty unambiguous:

Technically, of course, building a renewable energy plant constitutes “mitigation” of climate change rather than “adaptation” to it. That is, it helps reduce carbon emissions (all other things being equal), but does nothing to prepare us for adverse or extreme weather… Most scientists are now in little doubt that we need to be doing both, so the hydro plan is part of Bradford’s response those uncomfortable realities – and at least it is doing something! The Council’s main persuasion tactic seems to be to appeal to the green sensibilities of the local population: Shipley ward elects the only Green councillors on Bradford Council, after all (even if the MP, Philip Davies, is a climate change sceptic!).

Presumably we could add “Support renewable energy schemes in your area” to the bottom of that list… But what the Council have not done very clearly here is link this notion of global change, global responsibility, to the particularities of a local place. And it’s often difficult for people to see what difference small, local changes will make to the big, global picture (even though a lot of small changes might add up to a big one!).

It seems to me that the Council could have been much more explicit about admitting that the choice of Saltaire weir for this hydro scheme is as much a symbolic one as a practical one — that it’s a showcase scheme designed to draw public attention to the wider need for a switch to renewable energy. The objections to the scheme in the “Reasons to be Doubtful” document mostly relate to the inappropriateness of placing a power plant in a recreational park: indeed the authors make the point that such usage may contravene the terms of the deed of gift by which the Roberts family gave the park to the City in the 1920s. But if the hydro is constructed and displayed in such a way as to add to the interest value of the park for visitors, then the installation would presumably be enhancing the park’s “recreational and amenity value” rather than detracting from it. And clearly that is the intention here… You only have to look at the aesthetically rendered visions of the hydro installation on display at the July 5th consultation…

This diagram image, and its keenness to interpret and explain, seems to reflect a key aspect of the hydro plan — i.e. that it should serve as a pleasantly-designed educative exhibit, as well as a working power generator. None of this seems to me inherently objectionable in a conservation area or World Heritage Site, especially given that the return to “water power” signalled by the hydro installation also symbolises a cyclical return to the site’s own history. The weir is here in the first place because it once served a water mill – Dixons Mill – that stood on the southern bank before Salts.

In point of fact, even the protest lobby against the scheme seems to be aware that the hydro installation might add to the amenity and visitor value of the park. How else to explain the last point on the placard below? (sited at the ‘picket’ point outside the July consultation)

That final point suggests that increased traffic congestion might result from the added ‘attraction’ value of the showpiece hydro installation. And yet at the same time, there’s the assumption that it will be a burden (“Saltaire bears the brunt”) and an eyesore (obscuring views). The argument is somewhat self-contradictory, and perhaps somebody pointed this out to the ‘No’ campaign: it’s telling that the “traffic” objection is nowhere apparent in the September “Reasons to be Doubtful” document.

I have to say that I’m not convinced, either, about the suggestion that ‘iconic’ views will be spoiled by the installation: if you go down and look a the proposed site at present, the views from it are already partially obscured by self-seeding riverside foliage growing out the banking. Purely in aesthetic terms, the designs for the installation would appear to be an improvement, visually. The “Reasons to be Doubtful” document does mention that pulling out trees (presumably these ones) is an environmental no-no. Yet a much more substantial swathe of riverside greenery was pulled up during the Lottery-funded improvements to the park only a few years ago – precisely in order to clear the views from the cricket pitch to the bridge, Boathouse and Salts Mill…

But I’m digressing. Let’s return to the key argument. If one accepts the proposition (and plenty of people don’t!) that a hydro of this sort is a kind of showcase exhibit, with a symbolic and educative value beyond its purely practical, energy-producing function, then most of the objections in the “Reasons to be Doubtful” document fade away pretty quickly. “There is only a modest green gain.” Well yes, nobody ever said water could be harnessed to enormously powerful effect (there’s a reason we once switched to steam mills from water mills!). The point is not that this one hydro would generate huge amounts of energy, but that many similar, small-scale schemes up and down our river catchments (coupled with other schemes to create power from wind, waves, waste, etc.) might start to make a difference to our fossil-fuel dependency. “This scheme represents poor value for money.” Perhaps, but by the “Reasons…” document’s own reckoning, the additional cost in comparison with – say – the hydro at Hirst Mill being proposed by Sustainable Saltaire, is mostly caused by the need to make the installation appropriately presentable in a protected heritage context. Again, that price might well be worth paying for the public showcase value. And besides, Bradford Council’s figures, even at the conservative end, indicate that this hydro would pay for itself within a decade or so.

The “Reasons to be Doubtful” document does, however, ask a few searching questions about the green credentials of the scheme. Has anyone calculated what the actual carbon expenditure would be to install the hydro in the first place? Because without such an estimate, we can’t be sure what the net energy savings would really be of such a scheme, as opposed to the gross power generated. Not only that, the document refers to this proposed hydro as a “token gesture”… If it is to have symbolic value as a public exhibit of the virtues of green energy, it needs to be evident that it not tokenistic, but one scheme among many (the showcase scheme among many) that Bradford Council is developing. Otherwise it really would be just window-dressing, or “greenwash”. So there are still questions that need to be answered persuasively by the Council.

And perhaps the most persuasive argument on the “anti-” side is simply that the gestural value of installing such a showcase turbine does not stack up against the potential inconvenience value to the local community… Roberts Park was largely closed off for redevelopment work only a few short years ago, and although nobody disputes that the result is a vast improvement on what was there before, the prospect of part of it being dug up again so soon is understandably off-putting. This is the point that Rob Martin emphasised recently in a piece for the Saltaire Sentinel: “[visitors] would be walking next to a building site for the 14 to 18 months, and it will be even longer before the site resembles anything like the artist’s impression of the finished article. It seems to be very high price for a little bit of sustainable energy.” The counter-argument here, I suppose, is something along the lines of “you don’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs.” So again, it all comes down to a question of how much you want that omelette.

There are, as I said at the outset, strong arguments on both sides here – although it’s probably clear which side of the debate I favour (and hey, I can afford to: I don’t live in Saltaire and won’t live with the inconvenience of the construction). What I find disturbing in this, however, is the insularity of the way the debate has been framed by some on both sides. The anonymous “concerned villagers” behind the “Reasons to be Doubtful” document seem to have forgotten that they don’t actually live in a “village” entire unto itself, but in a district of Shipley, which is a district of Bradford… But look again at that placard I photographed above – “in our park,” “we” shouldn’t be having to export energy “across Bradford”. Whoever wrote that needs to ask themselves where they get their “own” food, clothing and energy from. Saltaire village is not yet a self-sufficient co-operative. But equally, the Council pitch on July 5th seemed to be pandering to the same presumed, insularised village mentality. Check this out:

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this “harsh urban edge of Coach Road”. In fact, the Coach Road housing estates, lying on either side of the park, were carefully planned by Shipley Urban District Council, back in the 1950s, precisely in order to preserve the “rural aspect” of the surrounding area (Shipley Glen, Baildon Moor, Hirst Wood…). You can see that especially with the very sensitive design of the Higher Coach Road estate (which will shortly be the subject of another blog posting). Unfortunately, the words “harsh urban edge” seem here to function as code for “those people over there in the housing estates” – wouldn’t it be nice to “screen” them off from “our” park? Well, folks, those people (many of whom are very lovely people, by the way) live in this area too, and the park is on their side of the river.

As park-keeper Martin Bijl is keen to emphasise, the policy of Roberts Park is – quite rightly – to be inclusive and inviting for people from both the north and sound of the river, and indeed from much further afield. In a World Heritage Site, we need to be thinking in terms of a global village.