Wednesday, 31 December 2008

There's Money In The Past

Peter De Vries was an American satirical writer and it was him who coined ‘Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be’ as well as a pile of other paradoxical truths.

In the case of Newport there isn’t a great deal in the City itself that counts as heritage worthy.  The scale is far overbalanced towards Caerleon which is an historic town and has internationally important features.  The traffic spoils the picture postcard as it does in many similar cases but it still counts as a worthy place.

For Newport itself we have what’s left of the castle, once a significant centre though few can remember why and it’s no place for a school trip nowadays. We also have some wonderful Victorian architecture., despite the view of some of those in the City Planning department. Just look upwards in Bridge Street, Commercial Street and even in Commercial Road in Pill  and wonder at the rationale for all those stone vases and carvings and other carefully crafted decoration that graces many of the buildings alongside the odd branch of Buddleia and some new box of concrete cancer that was put up in the Sixties.  There was real money in the town in them old days.

One iconic piece of engineering is still extant on the river. It is the Transporter Bridge. One of 10 that still exist in some form around the world and an example of the remarkable ability we used to have to sort out a logistical problem with creative thinking. Apart from the cost element, well, you’d just find some other way today. How many of today’s engineering marvels will still be marvelled at in 100 years’ time for their audacious solution to a problem ?

Now the bridge needs repairing again after long periods of studied and careful penny pinching neglect. What was thought to be a bill for £160000 has resurfaced as a bill for £8.5m.  Heritage it may be but Cadw and UK government sources don’t want to know apparently.  So it falls to the owners, who are Newport City to stump up the necessary if we want to keep it going. Under the new regime David Atwell is the cabinet member whose portfolio it comes under. The City has some money for it, some grants have been identified and there is a shortfall to be made up. Mooted is an idea to appeal to the Rate Payers for a voluntary donation over a couple of years to bring in the extra needed.

As a local councillor David has had plenty of involvement with social enterprises of all sizes trying to raise a pound or two for their local area’s community idea. This is bigger. Still, the principles are similar and if indeed David is the one who has come up with the plan himself then he is to be applauded. One cynical person at a public meeting lately was against the idea on the basis that if it worked, the City Council would be encouraged to apply the principle to other schemes. ‘Thin end of the wedge’ thinking.  Councillor David Atwell  was quick to reassure him. There was  a point, in that there are any number of worthy community schemes that need support and there is never enough to go round. The weak link is that it doesn’t mean we should not support anything therefore.  Reassurance was given that this would be the only scheme to benefit from a ground breaking idea for fund raising.

There is always an argument for supporting something else. Taking the spend wisely road might lead us to standardised functional infrastructure with no soul. Why do we have flowers in baskets all over the city? For precisely the same reason that the Transporter Bridge needs to be restored. As it happens we know that people come from all over the World just to see it. While they are at it they spend money locally. We get a name for bothering with our heritage and our environment. We get a name that states we care about things and value our past and have an interest in our cultural heritage. Capitalising on it should be easy at many levels. Schools can use it as a support for the curriculum. Visit Wales can trumpet it as a quirky thing to see and do. Engineering students can study it to find out why and how it was done. Some may even use it to get across the river.

It’s all very woolly and largely indefinable.  Those that demand supporting figures and a business case simply don’t get the point.

If you have a tourist based business or need to raise money for your business project talk to Bob Shepherd Associates.

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