Campaign to Save the Coventry Cross

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After careful consideration the Coventry Society has decided to formally oppose the demolition of the Coventry Cross and has launched a petition in support of this campaign.

The Society is not opposed in principle to the relocation of the Coventry Cross, providing that what replaces it is appropriate to the historic environment around County Hall, Holy Trinity and the Old Cathedral and that a suitable location is found for the reconstruction of the Cross with a timetable and full budget to fund it.

However this is not what is on the table. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, there is no plan to rebuild the Cross, no budget for doing so and no plan of what will replace the Cross in Coventry’s foremost Conservation Area. The plan is for the monument to go into storage and if the budget for rebuilding it is not found it will stay there, like so many other works of Public Art in the city.

At the heart of the issue is the fact that the replica cross is located within the City’s Hill Top Conservation Area, which has its own Management Plan, which was recently reviewed and updated. When demolition is proposed within a Conservation Area there is a requirement for the developer to demonstrate that the demolition will add to and not reduce the environmental quality of the Conservation Area. The process for doing this is to prepare a Heritage Statement to support the application. The Heritage Statement should provide the evidence that the demolition will enhance the Conservation Area. The application to demolish the Coventry Cross does not have a Heritage Statement. It does not even have a proper planning application that members of the public can see and there is no written justification for the demolition. If this all sounds unlikely you can check out the plans on the Council’s Planning Portal.

Furthermore it is not normal to support a demolition plan without seeing what will replace the demolished structure. Again there are no plans for what is to replace the Coventry Cross, just a description of making good the pavement surfaces around it. We have been told that the demolition is to make way for a restaurant, a Caribbean fusion restaurant called Turtle Bay. But we have seen no plans about what is proposed, so it is not possible to form a fair assessment as to whether the new facilities will be more attractive than the Coventry Cross. Again this is contrary to the Conservation Area Management Plan.

The proposed relocation site for the monument, for which there is no funding yet available, is on Ironmonger Row, in front of Gregg’s and a multi-coloured student block. Having taken advice from the sculptor involved in the creation of the cross, we do not believe that this is the best location for it. If the Council does go ahead with the relocation, we would like other options to be considered and the public consulted on them.

The person at the heart of these proposals is Councillor Jim O’Boyle, Cabinet Member for Regeneration. Of course Cllr. O’Boyle would have been advised of all these planning requirements if Coventry had a Conservation Officer. Unfortunately, for reasons not known to us, Coventry City Council no longer has a Conservation Officer.

Cllr. O’Boyle has stated that that the allocated budget for relocating the cross is £150,000 and that the Council has obtained that amount from a grant from the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

However on closer examination we find out that the budget is to dismantle the monument, clean up parts of it and put it into storage. We have asked the council for the full cost of replacing the Cross in a different location and they are not able to tell us. It all depends on the state of the structure. However we have been told by a reliable source that the total cost is likely to be in the region of £500,000 and there is no budget for the shortfall of £350,000. Some people might ask whether it is worth spending even £150,000 of public money on a scheme that is purely designed to benefit a single restaurant. Why isn’t the developer paying? If the total cost does come out at the estimated half a million pounds, would Coventry people still see it as value for money?

The Coventry Society supports the City Council’s efforts to regenerate the city centre, but it is not reasonable to expect support for plans that run counter to the Council’s own rules and policies. Approval of the demolition of the cross without meeting the requirements of the Conservation Area Management Plan would set a precedent for other unsuitable developments in the city’s Conservation Areas.

The decision on the future of the monument lies with the Council’s Planning Committee, which is obliged to operate fairly within the adopted rules and policies of the Council and National guidance, so we are hopeful that the matter will be properly and fairly considered.

If you support the campaign to save the Coventry Cross, please sign the petition

https://myaccount.coventry.gov.uk/Petitions?title=Save%20the%20Coventry%20Cross

You can see the “detailed” plans on the Council’s Planning portal, and make comments until 27th September.

Coventry Society Honours Architect / Planner Ralph Butcher

At its meeting on Monday 10th September 2018 the Coventry Society honoured one of its longest serving members, Ralph Butcher.

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Ralph moved to Coventry in 1960 after a spell in the RAF, an Architecture course in Hull and a couple of years at Hull City Council Housing Department. He worked in several sections of the Council’s Departure of Architecture and Planning. Ralph’s initial work in Coventry was advising the planning officers on the design aspects of planning applications (something that doesn’t happen these days). He also worked in the Policy and Landscape sections before taking over the role that he became famous for, leading the Council’s General Improvement Area Team.

In 1968 there had been a national survey of housing conditions, which reported on the very poor state of the country’s older housing. The grants for housing improvement at that time (as now) were spread very thinly and were not having any collective impact. The answer was to create the concept of the General Improvement Area where money and action would be concentrated in improving whole neighbourhoods and the improvement would not only be to the houses but also to the environment in which they stood.

Ralph was given the opportunity of taking this work on in Coventry. He tells us that he offered to do the job for a year but ended up doing it for 20 years which he enjoyed immensely.

Ralph initially worked on his own, liaising with people in other departments to get the grants and land sorted out, but these officers were later brought together under Ralph in the Council’s first inter-departmental team, the GIA Team. The team saw the establishment and completion of the country’s first General Improvement Area (GIA) at Colchester Street / Winchester Street and many more followed. The achievements of this team were very important for Coventry with 14,000 houses improved and 14,000 families given better lives in their own homes and communities instead of being re-housed in modern concrete blocks.

Ralph retired from the Council in 1992.

Ralph joined the Coventry Civic Amenity Society, as we were called in those days, in the 1970s. He took on many roles in the Society, including being a member of the Executive Committee, Treasurer and Membership Secretary. He has stayed a member right up to the present.

As well as the Coventry Society, Ralph was a leading member of a number of city organisations, including the Whitley History Group and the Coventry Building Preservation Trust.

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At its September meeting the Coventry Society acknowledged the contribution to the city and the Society made by Ralph and presented him with Life Membership of the Society.

Moving the Cross!

People who read the local press will be aware of the plans of the City Council to move the reconstructed Coventry Cross from its current location next to Holy Trinity Church in order to facilitate a private development.

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There is a current planning application to demolish the Coventry Cross. We have previously written about the Coventry Cross here.

Coventry Cross is located on Cuckoo Lane, outside the garden area of the Slug and Lettuce Public House (formerly the County Hall). It is within the Hill Top Conservation Area.

This modern replica of the historic Coventry Cross was funded by The Coventry Boy Foundation. The idea of a replica had been suggested many years ago in the 1930’s, but it was not until 1971 that discussions and plans were shown to the Coventry Civic Amenities Society (now the Coventry Society) and the Church authorities. It now stands next to Holy Trinity Church, 100 metres way from the original site of the old cross. The completed replica was unveiled in 1976. The figures for the new cross were made by Philip Bentham (of the Coventry Boy statue fame), Wilfred Dudeney and George Ford. George Wagstaffe made the crown and pendants. This modern version is different to the original by being mainly made from cast ferro-concrete, with only some of the statues being carved out of stone. At 17.4 metres (57ft) high the replica Coventry Cross has 20 niches with many figures.

In 2007 it was suggested that replica cross should be moved to Cross Cheaping. But because of local opposition this was not implemented. The idea of relocating it arose again in 2015, but nothing happened because of the cost and difficulty of doing this.It is now reported in the press that there is a proposal to relocate the Cross to nearby Ironmonger Row. However the planning application has been amended so that it now only includes the demolition of the existing cross and not its rebuilding.

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It has been quoted in the press that the City Council is prepared to spend £150,000 to move the cross. However the Coventry Society has researched this figure and established that the cost of £150,000 is the budget for dismantling and cleaning the sculpture and putting it into storage. The Council is currently putting this work out to tender. The City Council has been asked about the total cost of restoring the sculpture and re-erecting it and is not able to answer the question. They say that until the existing cross is dismantled and they have been able to assess the fixing arrangements, existing steel frame and other key elements no final cost can be provided from contractors.However we have heard from a  reliable source that the total cost is likely to be in the region of £500,000, leaving a shortfall of around £350,000. 

“The Council’s view is that the removal and relocation of Coventry Cross is an important project for the city. Our ambition is to relocate the cross nearer to the location of the original Coventry Cross and the relocation will also improve the context and setting of the medieval core of the City for residents, visitors and local businesses.”

We have asked sculptor George Wagstaffe, who was involved in the original design of the replica, for his opinion about relocating the cross. Whilst not totally against such a move, he pointed out the appearance and materials of the cross were more appropriate to its current location than the proposed one. He said that the surroundings of the proposed location on Ironmonger Row was more like a Mondrian painting than a suitable environment for a medieval stone cross.

The Coventry Society is not opposed to the City Council’s plans to improve Cuckoo Lane. However we do not want to see another of Coventry’s Public Art works put into storage, probably never to to be seen again. We also question why the Public Sector is being asked to pay for a relocation which only appears to benefit one business. How much is that business putting into the pot? Where is the budget for the reconstruction of the sculpture to come from? If the sculpture is to be relocated, where is the best location to put it? We feel that the demolition should not go ahead until these important questions are answered.

We also point out that there is a Conservation Area Management Plan which covers the demolition of structures in a Conservation Area and we would like to hear the Council’s justification for the demolition, which we have yet to see. We feel that the absence of a City Council Conservation Officer is leaving the Council without good advice on conservation matters.

We are pleased to note that the planning application has been referred to the Secretary of State and we hope that a sensible decision will be made.

What do you think? Should the Cross remain? Should it be moved? If so, where to? Would the available budget be better spent on improving the sculpture in its current location, e.g with gold leaf etc. to make it more like the original?

 

Heritage Open Days – Old Grammar School

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Come along and meet the Coventry Society at the Old Grammar School for Heritage Open Days 2018. We are open from 12 noon – 4 p.m. on both Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th September 2018.

We will be sharing this beautifully restored medieval building with Coventry Family History Society and the Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

We will have displays about the Society and what is going on in the city. We look forward to seeing you there.

Free. See event on Eventbrite

Meet George Wagstaffe – Coventry’s Best Known Sculptor

Meeting poster

The next meeting of the Coventry Society will be a talk by renowned Coventry Sculptor George Wagstaffe. George is famous in the city for at least three of the city’s iconic pieces of public art, although only two of them are currently on display.

Phoenix is currenly located at the bottom of Hertford Street, although it was originally contstructed for the Precinct.

Phoenx by George Wagstaffe

The Coventry Cross is a replica of Coventry’s historic market cross. It is currently outside Holy Trinity Church, although there are plans to relocate it.

Coventry Cross

Not currenly on public display is the Naiad. This was formerly located in the new Council House square, which was formerly Palace Yard. It is planned to put the sculpure on display in Friargate House, although the Coventry Society would like to see it relocated to its original location when the University development goes ahead.

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Come along and meet George at the September meeting of the Coventry Society on Monday 10th September at 7.15 p.m at the Shopfront Theatre, City Arcade. Attendance is free for members. Non members are welcome and asked to make a £2 donation towards refreshments and venue hire. You can book tickets here.

George Wagstaffe

George Wagstaffe

The meeting will also include a presentation to long serving member of the Society, Ralph Butcher, some formal society business and an update on the current work of the society.

Walking Through Litter

A personal account of living in Coventry by Nirmal Puwar

This article was written as a piece of creative writing just before Coventry was awarded the City of Culture 2021, but it is even more relevant today. It was previously published in the newsletter of CAN (Coventry Action for Neighbourhoods).

Litter

Very recently I have moved back to Coventry and the neighbourhood I grew up in to be near my frail elderly mother. There is something eerie about walking with my three year old daughter the same streets I walked as a child, hand in hand with my parents, on a daily basis. Even when we take the same routes the footsteps are not the same. There is an uncanny spirit to our everyday walks, such as walking to the bus stop or going to the local shops, visiting the library or going to the park. The spectral absence not only of people but the specific configuration of people and places hangs as a layer in the geographic atmosphere of the strangely familiar environment. Some lived well, worked hard and had long lives, like my father whose absence is palpable and whose loss is deeply felt in our daily lives. But other losses, of young lives, of my brother Harbans and sister-in-law Kulwarn, continue to take hold of us as we walk the streets. They too worked extremely hard, but their right to walk the streets into old age, as my father did, as well as to witness the changes around us, as I do with my three year old daughter, was snatched away from them by complex health issues. Walking through the neighbourhood I traverse layers of family history, and meet with familial and familiar estranged spectres.

All neighbourhoods change, though some change faster than others. Buildings come and go at a different pace, depending on which part of the country one is in. Oxford for instance, located fifty miles from Coventry, has more than its share of heritage sites which are protected and preserved. Coventry was heavily bombed during WW2 and lost many of its medieval buildings. Since then new concrete and glass buildings have over time been raised and pulled down. The city centre decays in some parts and arises anew in other pockets. One change I have witnessed from taking a walk in my neighbourhood is the phenomenal rise in litter. There is undoubtedly a social class demarcation of litter. Well-to-do neighbourhoods are not beset with street litter to the same degree.

For example, Earlsdon High Street in Coventry, which is the part of the city where Warwick University academics are likely to live if they live in the city at all, is remarkably clean and litter free in comparison.

My part of the city never was spotless, but you certainly did not have flares of litter around your feet as we do today. The streets were not paved over by a scattered patchwork of paper, lids, cans, suitcases and plastic bottles.

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In Coventry, as the city has been prepared to bid for City of Culture 2021, cultural icons, many of which are long forgotten, have been picked out and foregrounded as local illuminations. A central artery in the neighbourhood I grew up in during the seventies and eighties and now have come to temporarily live in has for example been mooted as a ‘music mile’ by Pete Chambers, Director of the Music Museum.

Along this mile well known bands performed and lived, as did Paul King on my road. I live less than a minute away from the independently run Music Museum and the Two Tone Cafe which are on the route at one end and Far Gosford Street is on the other end. The band Lieutenant Pigeon, who lived a few doors away from my family home, actually recorded a song titled ‘Gosford Street Rag’. Alongside the rich music heritage today the walk is full of litter. Its density in places can amount to ‘grot spots’, a term used by a parliamentary committee concerned with the national rise in litter. On a morning walk my daughter scooters past the Music Museum as we set off on our ten minute walk to Far Gosford Street, where the new creative quarter Fargo village, which features prominently in the City of Culture bid, is located. As soon as we take a few steps away from our garden gate we are met by flying litter. It is a little windy. As we hit the main road, some of the light litter is dancing around my daughter’s ankles. She finds it amusing to ride amidst and against the litter.

Councils have a legal obligation to keep land in their area clear of litter and refuse (including dog mess).

On my walks I have seen a small white lorry with a notice in blue on the side declaring its role in keeping Coventry clean.

The lorry catches random bits of litter in automatic rotating brushes. It passes a busy bus shelter which has built up a blanket of litter over time. The vehicle is too big to go into the bus shelter. So the rubbish remains there. To the side of the bus stop is one of the many fast food take-aways that line the road. Subway’s large bins are on the pavement and they are bulging, with litter scattered all around them.

Next door, the public pavement right in front of the window of a newly renovated barbershop, is piled with a broken worktop, rubble, litter of all sorts and even a piece of raw chicken breast. No doubt the local cats will clear up the meat fast.

This mound of debris has been sitting there for days. There are several household bins with different coloured lids which have items hanging out of the lids and on the pavement around them.

One is bright yellow labelled ‘Clinical Waste’. Clothes and paper are falling out of it.

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The lorry scuttles down the main thoroughfare with the driver seemingly not noticing what can’t be caught by the wheeled brushes.

He is focused on the route.

Our walk continues….

As the wheels of my daughter’s scooter whizz down the hill, the crushed cans, crisp packets and cardboard pizza boxes offer entertaining games for her. The debris now seems to come with the territory. Sadly, I recall how this was not always the case, certainly not in my childhood. In fact, in the last three years the litter has escalated exponentially in the area. We walk past houses with gardens full of litter. Weeds and overflowing bins line the pavement, as do discarded suitcases. And it’s not even bin collection day.

A great deal of the Victorian housing stock has become prime rental property, especially for students who can walk to Coventry University from here. On average the weekly rental charge is £80 per room, which is high, but still undercuts the much higher rental charges of Coventry University halls of residence. These are in keeping with national averages for student rent; a sector which is not only not subsidised any more but has become a burgeoning source of profit through the student debt cycle. Investors carve up housing for multiple occupation without turning an eye to how the properties will be maintained and rubbish collected, or, how transient tenants will dispose of superfluous goods without leaving them in front gardens, pavements and over flowing bins which are not collected. Uncollected bins can be reported to the council, but the relentless energy involved in reporting each and every one of the many uncollected bins on a weekly basis is unsustainable. It is also an inefficient use of council time. A universal rule to collect all bins might be one solution.

More responsibility could be imposed on landlords and letting agents whose profits have altered the landscape. Whilst the walls of the university extend across the city and into our neighbourhood so does the litter and rubbish. The old conflict between ‘town and gown’ is exacerbated by the enterprising university without civic responsibility. There is much the university could do with respect to students and litter.

On our route we reach the Carnegie designed Stoke library, a listed building built between 1912-13. This is my childhood library. I have written about the books I have met here, and of how it became a second home to my ageing father. Now my daughter frequents it. She has become attached to the library to the extent that she laments the removal of the shelving in the children’s area which was designed as a wooden car you could sit in. The library is maintained extremely well on the inside. But on the outside there are over-growing weeds and litter. Broken glass, cans, plastic bottles, crisps packets and the usual fly tipping of take away eaters depresses the spirit as one approaches this treasured public service. Library services nationally are having to find ways to carry on under the threat of closures and job cuts. The street cleaning services too have been drastically cut. I have been told Kingsway is only swept by the council once a fortnight. By then a storm of litter has built up, especially after the bin collectors have been. Their interaction with the bins noticeably adds to the amount of litter on the streets. Austerity policies are felt here in the most palpable ways. Ironically, the council supports huge flower pot hangings on the side of the dual carriage way on the approach to the city centre. It prides itself on being awarded gold for the Heart of England in bloom competition, whilst the litter flies around us. Walking is full of litter, fast depleting everyday pride in the environment of the city. Regardless of which awards are achieved, City of Culture is already City of Litter.

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Litter

The empty grass verge at the side of Stoke library, on Walsgrave Road, has become one phenomenal litter verge. Should you want to conduct a content analysis of the litter to understand consumption and discarding habits, here you would have your work cut out for you. This is a mega ‘grot spot’ on our route to Fargo village. A few seconds walk away, in the park that follows it, I have often spotted two men with a van and bags randomly picking litter whilst leaving other bits to rest and rot or fly around some more. I have witnessed them drive off whilst litter is still scattered in the park. On many occasions they must have also have driven past the litter verge. Even if it is only in their job description to focus on parks one hopes they have reported the ‘grot spot’ to their colleagues. I have complained several times about this specific litter verge to the Council. In response to the complaints it has on occasion been cleaned up. But it is not cleaned up as a matter of course, on a regular basis, even though the council pick up litter in the park right next to it. Again, like the continuous line of over flowing bins, I would need to complain on a weekly basis just about this specific site of litter to get it cleaned up regularly. Each spot one identifies as a source of complaint to the council requires a singular entry, online or via phone. With a repetition of the same personal details for each and every spot of complaint. You can’t complain of several litter issues in one complaint. Needless to say, one tires of the cumbersome process involved in the complaints and more often than not gives up. Serially logging litter complaints is not a long term option. Besides, it is unsustainable and no way to run a city.

My daughter and I rush past under the bridge located next to the litter verge, laughing nervously. We don’t want to be caught by the pigeon shit falling from overhead. Very recently workers have spent at least four weeks of night time shifts to paint the underside of the bridge blue. It was a fine dark green before. The signature colour blue for all city logos refers to the shade of blue the cloth was dyed in Coventry when it was at the centre of the weaving industry in the medieval period. The blue paint under the bridge was another initiative in memory work, in preparation for the City of Culture. Other bridges have also been painted blue in keeping with the heritage colour of the city. Who knows what the costs are, residents are rarely consulted.

Unfortunately the plastic spikes which deter pigeons from taking occupation under the bridge were not replaced after they had been removed for the paint work by the contractors. As a consequence of this oversight, now the pavement, and the pedestrians if they are unlucky, are plastered with pigeon shit. I logged a complaint about this. Now the contractors are on site again, placing netting under the bridge to deter pigeons. This is going to take approximately two weeks of labour time and money.

Ironically, the underside of bridges are painted blue, in the name of heritage, while the streets under it are paved in litter.

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Our walk continues….

We venture through Gosford Green Park. Testing terrain for a toddler with a scooter making steering turns through the windy paths. Once, hedgerows, now removed, walled the small park. Today traffic noise and fumes wall the park. At the traffic lights we stop at the dual carriage way which cut up the local walk to the city centre, demolished local shops, and flooded our walk with cars and lorries to make way for the ironically named Sky Blue Way highway which was opened in 1986. In the late 1300s a single combat event between the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Hereford was set to take centre stage on Gosford Green and was called off at the last minute. Despite this historic significance, Gosford Park is not one of the five parks in the city which have been awarded the Green Flag award by Keep Britain Tidy. Perhaps the design of these awards could mitigate against cities being able to cherry pick parks to maintain and spruce up for the selection for awards whilst neglecting others, by auditing conditions of parks across cities. Green spaces, nationalism and litter are often discursively connected in rather emotive ways.

The ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ clean campaign for instance was started by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. Inspired to take action because of the increasing ‘throwaway culture’ in the post-war boom of the 1950s, they wanted to stamp out the rising problem of litter. Campaign materials speak of “Pride in our country” and “Get England back to the green and pleasant land”. Anti-immigrant sentiments can sit alongside nostalgia for a mythical idyllic past. Indeed they are easily surfaced by far right organisations.

In 2016 the magazine Country Life in partnership with Keep Britain Tidy launched the campaign ‘Clean for the Queen’ for volunteers to pick litter in time for her 90th birthday. Regardless of this campaign for queen and country, there are hundreds of volunteer litter pickers who have integrated litter picking into special events or everyday walks. Litter picking and walking are activities which are increasingly occurring together out of necessity. Well known figures, such as David Sedaris, are heralded as heroes in Sussex.

Others are quietly getting on with it, because they don’t want to walk through mess or see litter in their parks and streets. They are impassioned by a right to the city as a clean city. If citizenship is approached as an urban practice, developing the capacity of citizens to control and influence the urban environment, then the practice of walking through litter needs attention.

Pressure has been placed on national government to respond to the issue of litter. The Local Government’s Select Committee on Litter and Flytipping (2014-15) used photos to illustrate the problem. However the government responded by considering visual proof to be perceptual and not valid evidence.

Instead data provided by the Local Environment Quality Survey for England was acknowledged as incomplete but still used to authorise the government’s view that there was not a national epidemic in litter. A government National Litter Strategy for England was announced in April 2017. Part of the strategy will involve data collection on litter. Data based on walks and visual records will need to be considered as part of evidence. Not least because visual reportage from citizens via words or digital photographs is treated as noteworthy by councils when complaints about litter are registered. Volunteer litter pickers across the country are mass observers. Walking methodologies need to be instituted amongst social policy administrators as both practice and evidence.

Finally we reach Far Gosford Conservation Area (as of 1992). Since 2005, this down at heel high street has benefitted from a Townscape Heritage Initiative with economic and physical regeneration. Parts of the architectural heritage, some of which goes back to the 12th century, have been restored. Many of the shop fronts are occupied by low cost food suppliers. The predominant trade on the heritage high street consists of African male barbers, of which there are at least ten. Some of the buildings above the shops are rented out as flats to students, usually to international students, at rents of around £1400 per a month by Coventry University. Here the enterprising university meets the civic heritage industry and international markets. Should you take a bus along the dual carriage way, which offers a view of the back end of buildings on Far Gosford Street you will see litter collected together here, there and everywhere. Nothing is protected from litter. My daughter scooters ahead of me into Fargo village, located in a turning in the middle of Far Gosford Street. She sits in the kids’ book corner of The Comfy Bookshop, whilst I take a much needed tea. I ask the assistant if they have had any books come in on litter. I too have become obsessed with this problem, in the context of the civic, commercial and educational states which have placed us in this desperate situation of living and walking through litter.

So what do you think should be done about this?