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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 27th August 2010
David Winpenny celebrates a milestone, and wonders about the impact of the column.

This week this column celebrates its 150th appearance. It began on 21 September 2007 with a look at the good and the bad in Ripon’s shop fronts and has appeared every week (bar one Christmas and two production problems) every week since.

If you’ve stayed with it for all 150 pieces – and around 100,000 words – congratulations! Even if you’ve only dipped in and out, you may have found, perhaps, something of interest. The 150th milestone seems an appropriate place to look back at some of the themes of the many columns and see if there are any conclusions that may be drawn or further thoughts that need addressing.

Back in 2007 things were economically much more secure than they are today – but that didn’t necessarily mean that all was rosy in Ripon. That first column, headlined by the sub-editors (not by the writer!) ‘The good, the bad and the just plain ugly’ set out to demonstrate that shop fronts are important in the city. It particularly took to task the unattractive frontage of The Original Factory Shop in North Street for its mirror-finished windows and garish colours. Now the shop has moved into what were the Woolworth’s premises (which were also criticised for putting the tills against an obscured street window) and has a much-improved appearance.

Other shop fronts have improved, too – WH Smith’s store received a new coat of paint (though the name-board still obscures the original frontage of the building). The fast-food outlet next to Perk Up at the top of Kirkgate, empty and desolate for so long, eventually opened as Zorro – though there are still problems with the façade. But there has been no movement in some places – Burton’s store, despite the manager’s best endeavours, is still lacking its promised new coat of paint. And there are still shops that like to display their wares, illegally, on the pavements.

Another matter this column has regularly targeted is street clutter – gratuitous bollards, pointless barriers, unnecessary signs. The Market Square is the worst offender – and this is a battle still to be won. Indeed, the Square and its use has been a leitmotif throughout the 150 columns. When they began, just to mention the word ‘pedestrianisation’ and ‘car-free’ was to be branded as a hopeless idealist, if not an eccentric. Over the last three years, though, more and more people seem to have been coming to the conclusion that it could work. This is a campaign - a battle? – that is only at the end of the beginning.

Another theme has been the routeing of traffic though the city. Again, this was always seen as something about which we threw up our hands in despair, saying ‘Ripon is a city with a medieval street plan, and it’s inevitable that we have traffic clogging up the streets.’ But, of course, it is by no means inevitable, and plans to take the traffic away from the most problematic of the streets – Low and High Skellgate, Kirkgate and Duck Hill, as well as Minster Road, are being formulated for proper discussion with the highways authority and other interested parties. Of course, the time to really grasp this particular nettle was when the bypass was first opened – but it is not too late to save Ripon from the grip of the motor vehicle.

The fate of the Spa Baths was another subject that needed airing. Harrogate Borough Council’s high-handed plans were attempting to ignore the wishes of many people in the city. There was no objection to improving the facilities for swimming in Ripon – indeed that was very welcome; it was the decision to fund it by selling off the Baths for housing, ignoring its historic and civic importance, that stirred the objections. The economic climate saved the Baths, but at some point the matter will return.

In February 2008 the condition of the Cabmen’s Shelter was raised in this column, but no action was taken by its owners, Ripon City Council. By 2009 the Civic Society had succeeded in its request to have the Shelter listed by English Heritage as a building of historic importance – but the Council did not repair it, only complaining about the listing. But because it is a listed building it can now get grant money – Harrogate Borough Council has made a grant and, we are assured, restoration work is to begin on the Shelter in October.

Other columns have dealt with matters as diverse as open spaces and cycle routes, terracotta, trees, terraces and ironwork. Garden-grabbing, to build new houses in large gardens, was condemned in 2008; the government is about to ban the practice. Planners have been taken to task for timidity by accepting only bland, pastiche buildings from developers. Building materials, textures, inappropriately-sited signs and building maintenance have all come under spotlight.

Has this column helped to sway anyone’s opinion or change anyone’s attitude? Maybe; there have been plenty who say, generously, that they enjoy reading it – thank you! Some say that that, because it’s often encouraged here, they now make a point of looking up above the shop fronts to see what buildings are really like, and that they have noticed details of the city that previously escaped them. In this, if in nothing else, we have made some progress.

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