A FRUSTRATED and confused visitor to Leeds, who had found themselves stuck on the ‘Loop’ road around the city centre, once told me they now didn’t fear going to hell after death.
No, he solemnly told me, purgatory would be circling the city of Leeds in his car in an endless doom loop, never finding the correct exit.
I’m tempted to invite him back to enjoy the experience with its new highlight of the roadworks in City Square thrown in.
My blog last week asked why Leeds City Council would dig up the city’s main square, make diversion instructions unintelligible and put roadworks and temporary traffic lights on most major routes that lead into the city itself.
It seems plenty of other people feel the same way.
I’ve spoken to and had messages from a host of senior executives and decision makers responsible for employing several thousand people who work in the centre of Leeds and their sense of frustration is palpable.
“What an excellent way to drive both shoppers and business out of Leeds!” said one.
Another commented: “The view from our office at Platform affords us a birds eye view of the carnage. The bit that winds me up the most is seeing ambulances and police stuck in traffic every day.
“ Whether the strategy for the long term actually works for us all can be judged over time, but the way these works have been organised appears to be ignorant of the immediate needs of the city.”
While another added: “Leeds city council deserve a gold medal for ineptitude when it comes to transport.
“Not only do we have a bus station located a 20 minute walk from the train station, we have the impossible task of navigating its city centre roads.
“Many have been narrowed to one lane from two, signposting is a joke and our regional airport is located at the highest point troubling it with fog and its transport links are non existent. Overall, a right old mess.”
A professional in the financial services sector told me that his journey into work in the centre of Leeds, which used to take 40 minutes, now takes two hours, whatever time he leaves home in the morning.
My comments even prompted an article on Linkedin by Michael Taylor, a partner at Leeds law firm Walker Morris.
Michael said he had previously sought to avoid commenting on articles like mine “because I would rather not broadcast Leeds’ current inadequacies in the transport department.”
I personally think we have suffered in silence for too long.
Michael made the point that “since the 1980s, Leeds’ success as a city centre has been built on two broad strands – financial and professional services businesses operating from easily accessible, well appointed city centre offices, and high-end retail businesses operating from easily accessible, beautifully presented city centre shops. The two were (and just about remain) so conjoined that the entire city centre was easily walkable. They were also easy to get to in a car.”
He pointed out that this made Leeds unique from many other major cities and its USP was its “connectivity”.
And he added: “Not only is Leeds at risk of throwing away that USP; it is playing catch-up in trying to emulate those cities it seems to admire, which is never a clever way to compete.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, I didn’t get a response from Leeds City Council.
Although I noticed a story on TheBusinessDesk.com on Monday morning headlined: “Long term benefits promised as city gateway is transformed”.
Don’t worry, I’m not daft enough to think it was a response to my article last Friday – councils don’t work that quickly.
What struck me was that it was not so much a call to arms to city businesses to promise them a bright new future, as a half-hearted justification for creating a right old mess.
The story began by saying that the city council “has released new visuals showing how City Square may look once highways works have been completed, and cars and general traffic are permanently diverted away from the area”.
If you haven’t seen the “visuals” then, let me save you some time: City Square looks like City Square, just without cars.
The council press release goes on to say: “Combined with the ongoing works at Leeds City Station as part of the Sustainable Travel Gateway, the scheme will offer an improved gateway to the city centre and a safer environment for people entering and exiting the station.
“Sustainable Travel Gateway” – what public sector jargon is this?
If the council aren’t careful then the number of people put off from travelling into the city centre will surely make it unsustainable.
And as for creating a safer environment for people entering and exiting the station, I suggest they just increase the police patrols outside McDonald’s on the station concourse after 11pm at weekends and that will make it easier for passengers to avoid the scrapping scrotes.
The press release quoted Councillor Helen Hayden, Leeds City Council’s executive member for infrastructure and climate, who said: “Removing general traffic from City Square to create a more pleasant environment has been a long time in the making, and follows careful consultation and years of planning.”
I think you could give a toddler a map of City Square and a crayon and they would design a better system than the current one.
And pray, Coun Hayden, what benefits can we look forward to when City Square no longer resembles a festive bombsite?
Apparently it will help deliver “a pedestrian-priority environment that welcomes people into our city, is much safer and cleaner, makes it easier to cycle from one end of the city to another, and also encourages more use of public transport because we are helping to improve bus journey times”.
And for those of you wondering, apparently “the main highways works, except the area immediately adjacent to the Queens Hotel, in City Square will be completed ahead of Leeds 2023’s take over of the square as a central part of the city’s Year of Culture, including a public artwork and a number of events”.
The public artwork has yet to be confirmed, but can I suggest that they commission a giant two-fingered V sign.
It perfectly sums up the council’s attitude to businesses in the city.
GOOD luck to The Atlantic Grappler.
That is the name that Leeds entrepreneur Mike Bates has adopted for his challenge to row the Atlantic Ocean single-handedly.
He sets off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands this weekend and aims to arrive in Antigua in the West Indies in a few weeks time.
And I have no doubt he will achieve his goal.
Mike is a former Royal Marines Commando who served in the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq.
He then joined the British secret service and served as a counter terrorism covert operations leader for 15 years.
After leaving the military he looked around for something that could replace what he had lost – tough training, seemingly impossible goals and camaraderie.
And that led him to the then little-known sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, where, after eight years of hard training and learning, he became a black belt in what is now one of the fastest growing martial arts in the world.
He didn’t just master this sport, he has made a business out of it and now owns and runs the Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym on Street Lane in Roundhay.
It’s become a throbbing hub for people in the local community where those aged from four-years-old to pensioners take part in the regular classes.
Mike’s Atlantic Grappler Challenge is raising money for the Leeds Hospitals Charity for the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Leeds General Infirmary,
The unit is special to him and his wife Sara because both their sons, Orson and Gabriel, were born prematurely and needed lots of help in their first few months.
“Without the amazing staff and facilities at LGI our lives would be very different today,” Mike told guests at the black tie Atlantic Grappler Summer Ball at the Mansion at Roundhay Park in July, that I was fortunate to be able to compere.
“We’re the lucky ones, but we met many families along the way that weren’t so fortunate. I want to try and change that for future families who so desperately need the specialist care we received.”
Godspeed Mike, and enjoy the journey.
THE freezing weather of the last couple of days has enabled me to wear an overcoat I bought two years ago.
But a combination of the pandemic and last year’s mild weather have meant it has been hanging in the back of a wardrobe for the last two winters.
It is a vintage camel hair polo coat made by a New York gentlemen’s outfitters that I purchased off eBay.
I like to think I resemble a Hollywood star in it – think James Mason in A Star Is Born, or Rod Steiger in On The Waterfront.
Although if you see me wearing it along with my flat cap, then you may think I look more like Del-boy Trotter from Only Fools And Horses.
What I have to remember is that in my efforts to prevent moths nibbling it, I filled the pockets with mothballs in plastic wrappers.
And after a long, well lubricated, festive lunch they might be confused with mint imperials.
I’m not sure, but I think that is what qualifies as a first world problem.
Have a great weekend.