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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 17th October 2008
Grasp the vision, says David Winpenny, Co Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, looking forward to a brighter future for Ripon

‘Think big!’ was one of the inspirational messages from Harvey Dowdy, Director of Regeneration for the city of Durham when she spoke at Ripon Civic Society’s Study Morning last Saturday.

The theme of the morning was Ripon’s own 20/20 vision – preparing for how the city might look and function in 12 years’ time. Mrs Dowdy’s look at how Durham is tackling its future was fascinating – and salutary.

Of course, Durham is not Ripon. It is considerably bigger – a population of around 40,000 as opposed to Ripon’s 16,500 or so. It has a university, which means that not only do the students add to the city’s term-time population but that the university also affects the way the city perceives itself. Durham has considerably more industry. And while, generally speaking, the city is wealthy, the surrounding villages – often former mining communities – are poor.

Yet many of Durham’s problems are like Ripon’s. Streets that do not attract visitors or shoppers because they are drab and have too many run-down shops. Lack of decent facilities for residents. Eyesores that mar the cityscape. Traffic that needs taming. Public spaces that are defaced with parking and clutter.

What any 20/20 vision needs to do is to look behind the problems and assess the assets. Durham has the cathedral, the castle, riverside walks, a fine setting. And Ripon? The city has no castle, but we have a cathedral, riverside walks, an ideal setting midway between the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors National Parks (and, therefore, finer scenery closer at hand that Durham can boast!). We also have the finest Market Square in the north of England. With such assets Ripon should be a mecca for tourists and for local people.

So why do we hear so much about problems and not about possibilities? Where is the vision that we need so that we move from a rather downbeat assessment of Ripon to one where we can be proud of the city? What can we do to move us forward?

Think big. Even in the current frantic economic climate there is money available for projects that could enhance the city – but as Mrs Dowdy said, funders like to see ambition, not timidity. Plans need to be far-sighted and creative, offering the chance to make a real difference to the lives of everyone who lives in, works in or visits Ripon in the future. Yes, there are currently severe traffic problems. Yes, parking needs to be addressed. But they can be sorted, and should not blind us to the wider prospects for the city.

One of Mrs Dowdy’s most interesting observations was that, in the main, Durham’s 20/20 ‘doesn’t do politicians’ – much of the day to day work (and indeed the formation of the vision itself) is done by a combination of representatives of the local development agency, the university, the cathedral, business representative and local government officers. They are people who ‘do’ rather than people who ‘consult’. The fact that politicians trust the 20/20 Vision board to get on and manage things without interference is an important lesson that Ripon could, perhaps, learn.

So what of Ripon’s big projects. Of all of them, the best is one that we have often referred to here, and which Ripon Civic Society has been striving for some years – the freeing of the Market Square from the horrors of parking and through traffic. The Society is beginning to work at a scheme that could bring this about – and it welcomes all input that could assist. There will be cost implications, but with goodwill and determination it could be brought about – and it would transform the city, making the most of this most precious of assets.

Of course there are other projects that should be brought forward – and they will no doubt form the subject of future columns. But let’s make a start with this one.

In one of his poems, ‘Andrea del Sarto’, Robert Browning wrote: ‘A man’s aim should exceed his grasp’. In the case of Ripon, making our vision is actually within reach. We should grasp it with both hands.

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