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October 05, 2013

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Ian MacKinlay

Such unprecedented contempt for the electorate, by the elected representatives of the people.

Paul Flynn

You should not judge Newport by last week's calamity.
No place in the UK has done more to keep Chartism alive than Newport has with annual events, memorials and honouring their names.

Ian MacKinlay

In my sixty-seven years I have lived in several towns and cities; Wembley, (Brent), Kingston-Upon-Thames, Evesham, Cardiff, Llantrisant, Bishop's Stortford, Oslo and Newport. I have always had a keen interest in what has gone on, in the place in which I lived. I have always followed the local politics, including in Oslo, and voted in local elections, except in Oslo, where, as a foreigner, I did not abide long enough to qualify for inclusion on the electoral register.

I have never known anywhere a similar example of such contempt for the electorate, by the elected representatives of the people.

Ian MacKinlay

I would like to congratulate "A. Harvey, Composer" on his excellent comment above. I do not disagree with anything he has said. More importantly, he seems to have thought of most of the things I would have liked to have said myself, but he has expressed them so well, and much better than I could have done myself.

Thank you A. Harvey; you have spoken for me, and I suspect, for very many other people besides.

Paul Flynn

Thanks, Aharveycomputer,
I agree with a great deal of that and I have already condemned the brutal stupid demolition and the PR calamity. Of course Chartism is a national heritage. But the mural was only one of a series of splendid monuments to Chartism in Newport and elsewhere in Gwent.
The demo and some articles in the Independent disregard entirely the promise of a new mural or other memorial to Chartism. There is no question that many of those groups/parties active today have been silent and inactive for the past 30 years.
But you have repeat the error of universal blame on the Council for everything that goes wrong. The council had no influence of the design of the new train station. it has been fashionable to criticise it. ut it is an enormous improvement for those of us with mobility problems and wheelchair users. The old station was unusable to the disabled who had cases to carry.
You should take your complaints about the redevelopments to the Conservative and Labour councillors who were responsible. I am happy to take personal responsibility for my part in ensuring that Tredegar House was nor demolished and its grounds built on and that Victoria Place was not replaced with modern flats and for the commissioning of the Chartist mural and statues in the city.
i am also proud of my help to initiate 30 years of Chartist commemoration in the city and parliament.
Thanks for giving me the chance to explain.

Ian MacKinlay

One of the favourite words of the illustrious Member of Parliament for Newport West is 'ineptocracy',

Paul Flynn MP, may have even coined the term, but I think somewhere I read that he denies that to be the case.

I wonder whether he would agree with me, that the decision of Newport City Council to accept, without question apparently, that the removal of the mural would cost £600,000, means that the term 'ineptocracy' would appropriately be applied to this body.

Aharveycomposer

I think you're misunderstanding what the real issues are, and the campaign itself.

"Chartism: more than a mural" has become something of a mantra of yours recently, and it is true. But you're doing the destruction of the mural and the public campaign to save it a disservice by suggesting the only issue here is the Chartist movement and its representation in the arts.

Newport Council (which I know you have no influence over) has badly let down the people of Newport and the city centre for a good while now, certainly since achieving city status. Whatever the realities of credit crunches or economic limitations, it's clear the Council has no real vision to regenerate Newport holistically or effectively. Whatever slim successes it may be able to point to (that often have more to do with the work and vision of others than their own), one only has to look at the awful train station (should be an aquarium the way it can take in water), the Kingsway redevelopment, the Bus Station, the diminishing arts and culture outlets and the sporadic, slapdash housing developments to see recent examples that we are at the mercy of developers and poor planning, and the city centre is in danger of becoming a collage of random building projects, designed to emulate the cookie-cutter retail and leisure meccas of Cardiff and Bristol and failing abysmally in the process.

The handling of the mural was always going to be a good acid test of the Council's strength, its vision and its foresight. Probably Newport's most famous artistic landmark depicting one of Newport's finest hours, it was clear it deserved care and attention when it came to dealing with it, and great effort should have been made to keep it. Nobody disputes Newport's need for regeneration but the mural was a one of a kind. You can point to other artworks that equally commemorate the Chartist spirit - they were not 35m mosaics depicting the narrative of that fateful day. It was clear, whatever side of the line you fell with the argument, it needed to be treated with respect.

Newport Council's handling of the situation tells you everything you need to know about Newport Council, its respect for the city centre and its level of concern for citizens. On the 17th September a press release told us Cadw had, at some unknown point, supposedly researched and deemed the mural not worth saving, especially in the the light of a supposed £600k cost to do so. On October 3rd, after no dialogue, no attempt to put the project out to tender, no attempt to register a plea with the developers, no public or private meeting with citizens or the campaign, a makeshift demolition team consisting of three men and a digger were quietly whisked in to Newport to begin the most heartless and reckless destruction of the mural you could have imagined. These men had no real brief apart from to tear down the mural as quickly as possible, in the hope the sting would be taken out of the tail of growing public concern and the problem would go away as a result.

That shows the level of contempt and distance the Council has put between themselves and the public recently. In fact, and in fairness, it also displays a shocking level of distance within the Council itself. Every Councillor we have spoken to had no idea the demolition was about to happen and absolutely nobody seems to know where the finger should be pointed.

THAT is what the campaign has been about. Yes, first and foremost we wanted the mural saved and relocated. Yes, we felt it was an insult to the Chartist movement to destroy it (and, my word, when it happened, it was an insult). But the wider narrative has always been clear: Newport Council do not have a clear vision for the city, do not seem to have any credible, holistic plan for redevelopment and are happy to bulldoze whatever is in the way to ensure the developers spend a bit of cash that the Council can boast about.

We all know £1.5 million was granted to the Council to prepare for development. We all know NCC pledged £50k towards a new Chartist memorial (could have been put towards saving the rather special one we already had). In the 2010 prospectus for Friars Walk there is a £100k line in the draft budget towards saving the mural. And, to top it all off, the £600k figure was almost certainly erroneous. I heard it from a member of the demolition team with my own ears that they had to start bashing at the mural just to see what happened - they had no idea how it was constructed or how it would come down. Not only does that suggest details of its construction weren't clear to anybody involved in the Cadw decision, it's also a clear indication NCC's line that the mural was demolished because of imminent health and safety concerns is utter nonsense. The Council has lied to those trying to preserve the mural all year, and as soon as the Cadw decision was made they breathed a sigh of relief and went about what they were desperate to do all along - popping £1.5 million into the bargain to make sure Queensbury stuck around.

We are angry and concerned because our Council is inept, desperate for investment in virtually anything and willing to make any sacrifices to get it. We are concerned because cuts to arts and heritage are made at the expense of a Council deluded that Newport is a thriving, happy city badly in need of more shopping space, without a thought for its architectural significance, integration with the rest of the city or incorporation with existing art and heritage. Our concerns have always been legitimate - this last week has just very publicly proven so.

I have been an admirer of yours in most respects; probably one of the few politicians who has a career they can be largely proud of. But your approach to this issue and those involved is rapidly becoming a small but significant blemish on that career.

The repeated condescension towards the campaign has been unwarranted. The insurrection (clearly a nod to the text of the mural and clearly never intended to be a violent or angry protest) was probably the most socially mobilised I've seen Newport for years. Whatever holes you can pick in the organisation or execution of what is (remember) an unfunded movement of disparate citizens, you must ask yourself a simple question: who got it more wrong this week, the campaign or the council?

You should have supported and had input in what is a legitimate campaign motivated by legitimate concerns. Your repeated suggestion the campaign is un-contactable is frankly nonsense - we have a campaign page and twitter and nobody has ever made a secret of their contact details. Whatever your thoughts, concerns or opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign and the cause in general, you would have better served Newport by making it clear you were onside with those trying to make a positive difference, not sitting on the fence condemning the council and the people campaigning against it. It may not be under your jurisdiction, or even your problem, but your contentment to judge from the sidelines has not helped what is clearly an important matter for Newport and Newportonians.

Ultimately I feel you have misunderstood the tenor of the cause and the significance of the mural, which goes beyond commemorating Chartism and is a potent indicator of the problematic microcosm that is Newport. Now quite literally lying in cold tatters in a soon-to-be-demolished tunnel, I hope even you can see we have been let down by our Council over this matter. But we have also been let down by those who didn't recognise the significance of the mural outside of what it depicted. Now we have no mural and must wait for two years or more to see whether Friars Walk was really worth the hatchet job that has been done to our city preparing for it. Can you point to any part of Newport's redevelopment that suggests we should have shut up and trusted those supposedly serving us?

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