December 30, 2012

Engines Must Not Enter the Potato Siding

What's the video equivalent of dog-earing? Whilst finding details about the recent Golden Age of Steam documentaries, I stumbled across the BBC Four Collection on Steam.

The BBC Four Collections are a fantastic way to start opening up the archives, and it's lovely to be able to watch old documentaries again. I have a feeling I'll be leafing through some more of them in future, this Panorama documentary from 1966, for instance, looks interesting - predicting what the tech industry in California will look like in the year 2000... There's also The Great Railway Cavalcade: Rocket 150 at Rainhill, looking at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Rainhill Trials, which I remember attending as a boy.

Anyway. I've just watched the Tuesday Documentary: Engines Must Not Enter the Potato Siding. First broadcast in November 1969, it's a look at the railway network and men who worked on it, particularly the area around Sheffield and Manchester but also touching on London.

It's from a time when steam was on the wane and the electric and diesel engines were taking over. Commenting after a section showing old railwaymen sharing stories and banter in the railwayman's club, the narrator says:

"when they argue the superiority of steam, they don't mean at all that it was more efficient - because they know it wasn't - but steam to them is better because it was a more demanding thing. It was a difficult thing to do well, and they take pleasure in remembering how they did it."


It also shows some of the forward-looking thinking of the day - shots coming up the escalator from the tube into a gleaming new Euston station; mentions of containerisation and how it simplifies the freight interchanges; and shots of a new "electronic marshalling yard", where trackside sensors allow the movement of the wagons to be controlled by "computer tape". Apart from the punched tapes, it doesn't sound all that far from some of the Internet of Things projects being proposed now.

I'll finish with a quote from one of the drivers, who describes a cafe that I'll bet hasn't featured in eggbaconchipsandbeans, probably because it will have died with the passing of the steam engines...

"you can't get a better feed than bacon and eggs fried in a shovel"

Posted by Adrian at 09:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 10, 2012

Planning Indie Retail?

Julian Dobson's latest blog post, Shopping centres: At the heart of the community? reminded me of a thought that occurred to me recently, and what is this blog for if not holding random thoughts I have about regeneration and the like...?

It was sparked by the recently opened row of shops at the bottom of the new student accommodation block that's just been built at the end of my street. There are three shops open (with a fourth being fitted out I think) - a Greggs, a Caffe Nero, and a small Co-op supermarket. Not a terrible mix, but disappointing that they're all national chains.

At least the supermarket is a Co-op - providing some much needed diversity in the local supermarket scene. Of the supermarkets I could (and do) easily walk to, there's now one Co-op; two Sainsburys; an Aldi; four Tesco Expresses and two bigger Tescos. All bar the Aldi and bigger Tescos are of the smaller convenience store size. If I get on my bike, I can take in another Tesco Metro, Aldi and Asda. Anyway, the Tescopoly in Liverpool is a different issue.

It seems such a common pattern - new build goes up, all the retail is identikit chains rather than local businesses (I'm glossing over the fact that some could be franchises as that's just a middle-ground). Is it just because that's an easier sell for the developer? Or don't they get any local applicants because the lead time is too long?

I don't know, but for housing it's pretty common for a chunk of the new development to be mandated as "social housing" as a condition of the planning application. There are issues with that, but it's a step in the right direction. Could, should, the same apply to the retail units? What if a proportion of the retail units in any development had to be "indie retail", and could only be taken by independent businesses? That would be one way to encourage Julian's fourth suggestion, without having to rely on the benevolence of the shopping centre owners.

Posted by Adrian at 08:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack