Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Leicester's Bowstring Bridge Saga

I was interested to see that ongoing saga of Leicester's Bowstring Bridge, has finally made it into the national media.

Sadly it appears that Jonathan Glancey's article is an attempt to close the stable door after the horse has bolted, as when I drove past yesterday, the steelwork was all but gone.

I'm not really enough of an expert to tell you how significant the loss of the bridge is. I've seen similar bridges in other parts of the country, and couldn't tell you what would make a Victorian bridge particularly worthy of preservation. I guess that's why I've not commented on the issue before. However, I do recognise that the Bowstring Bridge is an important Leicester landmark, and I'm amazed that the Council are going to such trouble to get rid of it.

The more I've read about this, the more ridiculous the situation appears. As I understand, the Council is spending just under £500,000 of it's own money removing the bridge, before selling the land to De Montfort University for just £1. Apparently DMU have plans to build a new swimming pool on the site, but this is currently all we know, as they haven't released any further information about it (no drawings, no plans, zip!). However, they have repeatedly said that it is 'vital' that they have the Bridge land for the project to be feasible.

Considerable local opposition has been met by a very hard line from Leicester City Council , who's attitude seems to be 'we're knocking it down and that's that'.The wider story of this has been covered in pretty exhaustive detail by Leicester Mercury Editor, Keith Perch, on his blog. For those interested in the matter, I've put the links in below:

Personally, I'm less interested in the aleged underhand actions of a local authority (although I'm more than happy to open this up to a wider audience), than why they have chosen to treat an important feature of Leicesters heritage, as a problem. Someone must have pointed out that the bridge was a valuable heritage feature, but the decision was made to ignore this. I suspect this sort of treatment of heritage features happens every day, up and down the country, if perhaps not quite so blatantly.

Jonathan Glancy isn't the first person to suggest alternative uses for the bridge, but those who hold the power have been adamant they're knocking it down. I would have liked to seen it developed as a linear park, similar to New York's, High Line, as I think the photo below hints at this potential.

I also think it would be wrong to finish this article without also mentioning the loss of the Pump and Tap, which is due to be demolished as part of this development. It may not be the finest Victorian building in England, but it is a good old-fashioned pub, of the sort that is fast disappearing from our cities. I suspect if it was a village pub being demolished there would be more sympathy (loss to the community etc), but people often forget that urban areas have communities that can be damaged by the loss of facilities too.

The whole thing is a sorry story, and everyone involved from Leicester City Council to De Montfort University, should be ashamed.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Power Station Landscape

Waiting for a train at East Midlands Parkway a couple of weeks back, I found myself reflecting on the beauty of Ratliffe Power Station. I guess this isn't something you would normally expect to hear from someone with an interest in the landscape or our environment. But somehow the manmade, somewhat brutal form of the cooling towers made an interesting counterpoint* to a bright, fresh morning.

Apologies for the lack of blog updates recently. With any luck normal service will be resumed shortly!

*Please note that I have deliberately avoided the use of the word 'juxtaposition', for reasons that I may one day elaborate on.