Stoke-on-Trent ““ Sorry Merv, I Agree With Mathew!

The Managing Director of one of Stoke-on-Trent’s success stories and prized assets Emma Bridgewater, has likened the City to a wasteland and “disaster zone” comparable to London in the 1950s following World War II.

In an article in today’s Telegraph, Matthew Rice criticised Stoke-on-Trent City Council for knocking down historic buildings and former factories instead of using them as a part of the regeneration programme.

As a result of what he describes as the City Council’s feckless planning, the city has been left to resemble Helmund Province in Afghanistan.

“We have got to put building conservation at the head of regeneration and stop demolishing,”

“We have a city here know so well for its industrial past that is has a whole area, the Potteries, named after it.

“The buildings, the factories, the terraced houses; they are the building blocks of the city and represent the inheritance of the people who live and work there, their parents, their grandparents.

“These are the cultural anchors which we need to hang on to whilst regeneration takes place.

“Lose the factories, the civic buildings, the churches and the brick terraces that make up our built environment and we jeopardise the survival of the city itself.”

“If you go around Stoke these days there is lots of bare land where things have been demolished. I’ve no idea what it looks like in Helmand Province but I get a feeling it would look a little like here.

“There is always this idea that we have got to demolish everything to put things right. A blank canvas they call it. But I’d rather see people use the buildings in regeneration and development.”

Mr Rice’s comments seem to have put Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s nose slightly out of joint.

Mervin Smith, Stoke-on-Trent City Council spokesman for city development, responded by dismissing Matthew Rice’s comments.

“Serious regeneration of any city takes more than a couple of years. We have seen this with Birmingham and Manchester for example. Significant projects have already been delivered, such as the new state-of-the-art Sixth Form College and the City Waterside development, amongst others, with work due to start on the new bus station next year and the East West precinct in 2012.

“We are indeed proud of our ceramics heritage which is evidenced by the banners which decorate the Potteries Way, celebrating pride in our local companies, the restoration of surviving bottle ovens and most importantly the biennial celebrating Stoke-on-Trent as the world capital of excellence in ceramics.

“The city council has worked closely with local ceramics businesses, including Emma Bridgewater Ltd, and are disappointed at the attitude expressed by Matthew Rice. He is perfectly entitled to his opinion, which we respect but cannot agree with.”

I think that Mervin Smith has completely missed the point of Matthew Rice’s comments.

I don’t think for a minute that Mr Rice is questioning particular projects, I think he is merely pointing out that the strategy behind our regeneration project is completely flawed and I, for what it’s worth, am in complete agreement with him.

Over recent years we have seen the demolition of countless dwellings and historic factory building that have been replace by absolutely nothing.

The gateways to the various towns that make up our unique City have more holes in them then a 5000 piece jigsaw with half the pieces missing.

No one at our City Council should try and defend the balls up that have been described as regeneration in this city.
We have had to return money that has not been spent for goodness sake.

Don’t even get me started on the debacle of the business district that was fundamentally flawed and only pulled when our new Chief Executive had the wherewithal to admit that after our council had spent some £1.5million, it was never going to work.

The changes in the top layer of the Regeneration Directorate tell us the public that our new CEO was sufficiently concerned about the performance and results to take the bull by the horns and attempt to restructure what was becoming a joke to all who take interest in the socioeconomic development of our city.

Emma Bridgewater is a beacon of hope in a City that has all but lost our traditional and proud industrial heritage and I think the Cabinet Member with responsibility for regeneration would do best to listen and draw inspiration from one of the few examples of success and trend bucking.

The governments Comprehensive Spending Review [CSR] set out very clearly that money for regeneration is going to be very hard to come by indeed.

The formation of the Local Enterprise Partnership [LEP] will see us go toe to toe with Staffordshire County Council for any mere morsel of cash to regenerate over the next 4 years.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council need to form a partnership with people like Matthew Rice from industry and with politicians like Tristram Hunt to help develop and enhance the prospects for Stoke-on-Trent PLC.

Mervin Smith graciously conceded that Matthew Rice was entitled to his opinion, but he made it abundantly clear that his opinion would be dismissed.

What a shame, another opportunity to take an out of the box progressive look at the strategic way that we we deliver [or do not as the case may be in the next few years] the true regeneration of the City of Stoke-on-Trent lost because someone dares to voice an opinion that the City Council may be getting it slightly wrong.

I pity John van de Laarschot if his senior politicians do not have the insight to explore and change direction due to the failings of the past and the catastrophic impact that government cuts will have on the development and regeneration.

We really are doomed to failure if we dismiss the opinions and ignore the obvious skills of entrepreneurs like Matthew Rice and the sympathetic view on heritage and conservation of the Likes of Tristram Hunt MP.

Come on Mervin and the rest of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, get a grip for god’s sake.

Matthew Rice has written a book called The Lost City of Stoke, which was inspired by a visit to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Tunstall in 2008.

Follow the link below to find out more and to to purchase it.

I have a copy and in my humble opinion it will make a great Christmas present.

Noblesse Oblige

I belong to a discussion group that meets on a Tuesday night at the Blue Mugge in leek. Last night was a very interesting debate on our response to Wotton Bassett on a day when 7 coffins came back from Afghanistan containing the bodies of lads to use a line from an Elvis Costello ” boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne”. Some of the soldiers were killed in a fire fight with the Taliban and others in a terrible road traffic accident when a vehicle drove into a canal.

Last weekend I was a National Trust property in Derbyshire. The chapel contained memorials to the fallen of the big house and the estate. The nobility as a proportion of the population probably lost the highest proportion of the population as Germans targeted the subalterns and the First Lieutenants in the trenches of Northern France and Flanders.

The first point I made in my contribution was on the question of equality of sacrifice especially when the political elite was concerned. In the First World War and the Second the political class shared the burden of loss. In 1916 the son of the Prime Minister Raymond Asquith was killed, as was the son of the Tory Leader Bonar Law. It was the same in the Second and I cited the example of the Marquis of Hartington, the son of the Duke of Devonshire killed in Normandy in 1944.

I know that many well connected young men and women join the Army and seek commissions at Sandhurst, but primarily the burden of the fighting and the dying is taken by primarily young men from the industrial areas of the North, the Midlands and Scotland.

But as far as the political elite who take the decisions that lead to war well”¦

I saw the Michael Moore film Fahrenheit 9/11. There is a scene in the film where Moore interviews Senators on the hill who voted for the Iraq war none of whom had relatives fighting in the conflict. Politicians can make decisions and rarely does the personal impact of the decisions impinge on their lives. It is the same in this country would the politicians of this country be so keen to make war if it was there children first in the firing line.

I am not a fan of the former Stoke South MP George Stevenson but he was opposed to the Iraq war and at least he was one of that rare group of MPs who did have a relative involved in the Iraq War. A grandson was wounded in the war and I imagine George’s view of the war may have been coloured by that consequence of the war.

But the other element where I see the covenant between the army and the rest of society break down is in the treatment of veterans.

Some one quoted Kipling which even after 100 years still has a resonance in the attitude that the non military have towards the military.

” Its Tommy this and Tommy that
And Kick him out the brute
But its hero of his country
When the guns begin to shoot”

But what happens when the guns stop. About 10 years ago I was working for a mental health charity in East Manchester. One of the people I saw was a veteran of the First Gulf War and had been caught up in the incident that saw the heaviest loss of British soldiers in the war In a so called “friendly fire” incident an American A10 fighter attacked a British convoy of vehicles. The first troop carrier was destroyed and all the soldiers inside were killed, all of them were from the Greater Manchester area. The dead included the youngest British fatality an 18-year-old from Rochdale. The chap I saw was in the second vehicle, which also was hit, but he was saved as the blast went out of the vehicle, as the back doors were open. As you can imagine the young man was suffering badly from stress disorder but was not getting help from any of the psychiatric services in Tameside. I managed to get him referred to an Army charity that specialised in helping soldiers that had PTSD that had a residential unit in the Scottish border.

Similarly there is evidence that many ex squaddies end up on the streets when they leave the Army.

I think we have a real ambiguity in our relationship with the military from the politicians who send men and women to war to the crowds who line the streets of the Wiltshire town. We dutifully attend the Remembrance Day commemorations. We support our boys but all too often abandon them when the conflict ends.

Perhaps we should follow the American example and have a veterans bureau which sits at the heart of government if we expect our boys to defend our liberties then we should put the survivors of conflict more at the heart of government.

Things not discussed in the election

I have watched the three leader debates and what has struck me is the things that are not discussed by the leaders and in the election generally. I have compiled a list of ten things that either have not been discussed or passed over fleetingly.

They are

1 Afghanistan/ Pakistan

2 Prison numbers.

3 The growing impact of China

4 Nuclear material falling into the hands of terriorists

5 The Future of Higher Education.

6 The War on Drugs.

7 Climate Change

8 Securing Energy Needs.

9 Ageing Population of UK/ Pensions

10 Corporate Power and impact on local communities.

When Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister he was asked what was the most difficult thing about being PM. “Events dear boy, events” he responded. Who for example could have thought that only months after the 2001 General Election the terrible events of 9/11 would have occured that have had such a profound impact upon foreign and domestic politics since.

One of the issues that I have included on the list , for example, is the question of missing fissionable material. The concern has been knocking around for a time. I recall going to the Hay Festival in 2002 to hear Robert McNamara Defense Secretary to President Kennedy and Johnson showing the greatest concern on the subject. It still is an issue and last month President Obama adressed a international conference on the subject.

Similarly the war on drugs which I have also written about on Pits and Pots. Given the massive amount of resources that are eaten up by this effort there has been no debate about whether this massive investment is making any difference.

The Prison quection is yet another one. In the time of economic restraint can we afford a prison building programme.

And finally the growing influence of China which seems to be coming out of recession. I cannot recall any debate on for example China forging deals with African States and effectively buying up natural resources.

I am sure that most and probably all these unspoken questions will have an impact upon local life. Who in 1989 could have foreseen that the breaching of the Berlin Wall would see 20 years later influxes of Eastern Europeans into the UK.