Yes, I’m back again. Thanks for staying with me. The Supertram works lasted a long time and I have many stories from that time which is why it is split into two parts. Unfortunately it didn’t end so well….
Can Hillsborough recover?
So, lets ‘crack on’ as they say in the north…
I have checked back to see what I said in part one and I have covered most if not all of the direct action I got involved with during the works themselves for PR and, to be honest, to be doing something to stop worrying about how difficult the trading conditions were. As I mentioned before, during this period I joined the Chamber of Trade, which has since merged into the Chamber of Commerce, in order to make sure my voice, as a small trader, would be heard. I suppose this was my first foray into politics in its broadest sense. It was an interesting eye opener for me. I was the youngest member on the board of directors by about 20 years I think and one of only two women. As with most things I get involved with, I threw myself wholeheartely into trying to fight for the other small traders in the area who were suffering so badly. I organised meetings and worked with others to lobby for help, support and change. Naively, I thought locally elected politicians and counsellors were there to help and make life easier, but so often our entreaties and pleas were turned into policy bashing or point scoring along party lines. And the amount of times our complaints about the Supertram works were ‘spun’ into an anti public transport polemic was frightening. In the end, every time I went on radio I would begin by saying emphatically “we are not anti public transport!!” before trying to make any sort of complaint or point.
Due to the horrendous road traffic management issues caused by all the construction works, there now began a campaign to try to argue for significant business rates relief as there had clearly been a ‘material change of circumstance’ which affected or should affect the amount of rates all traders were expected to pay. So, as ever in these circumstacces, all the ‘chancers’ appeared and every five minutes someone new comes round offering to put in a claim for you. They would then ‘only’ take a fee out of the money you would save. Sounds fair enough doesn’t it? Until you realise that you could do it yourself with a single letter and it wouldn’t cost you anything!! Safe to say I made my own claim…. There were many however, that didn’t.
Oh and the rates relief when it came was a mess too. Rates collections were suspended and then, when reinstated, people got bills for 2-3 years worth – some of which was simply taken by direct debit without authority. It was just one fun time after another. Oh how we laughed….
press cutting about the business rates farrago
So, eventually, the works are finished and the Supertram is launched. We, the traders, were, or at least we tried to be, positive. Middlewood Traders, the row of shops where the gallery is still located, held a street party with live music and everything!! During the couple of days where you could ride the tram for free it was packed and then…..
press cutting about the Supertram launch event
Middlewood shops open for business too!
Well, lets just say everyone was completely underwhelmed. No-one used the tram, bad feeling was extremely high, fares seemed high and people didn’t want to use the tickets machines or know where to get tickets from. In addition the tram didn’t serve anywhere the numerous buses didn’t already serve and guess what? It was slow because of the traffic!! It was looking very bad. I say no-one used the tram, but that is an exaggeration of course. However, I believe that useage was less than 30% of what was predicted and the council ended up having to sell it off not long afterwards for a fraction of what they’d paid to get it built and operational.
Such is life and Hillsborough was left in a right mess.
Now, please for a moment, try to put yourself in the position of someone who has run a business for many years in a certain place and who wants to remain there despite the current difficulties because, however bad they are, you were promised that everything would go back to the way things were. Ie the road traffic would be allowed to use the tram routes and that the road traffic management and therefore traffic flow would return to how it had been previously. Now, imagine how you would feel if, after three years of trading hell, you had hung on to your business on this understanding, you were suddenly told that actually they had changed their minds!
The traders went berserk!
Many, had they known this, would have closed their businesses before the works, not piled up debt in order to go bankrupt later! It was horrendous!
Tram Gate Gate
Tram Gates – one of the many news paper articles
I’ve called it Tram Gate Gate – as it really was an unpleasant affair. To explain; looking back, the only way to ensure anyone was ever going to use the new and rather expensive Supertram was to reduce traffic on its route in order to make it faster and more appealing as a mode of transport, and the only way to do that was to change the road traffic management system AGAIN.
Traders protested loud and hard.
This was so unfair on so many businesses and it signalled the end for a whole swathe of Langsett road as the new road measures meant that whole stretches of road were simply cut off from general traffic. Unless you knew there was a business there you would never pass it. Hillsborough, as a suburban shopping centre, once the largest and most vibrant outside of the city centre was now a shadow of its former self, with, it seemed now, no chance of ever recovering. This was depressing and difficult. Although the traders fought, they/we unsurprisingly didn’t win, although some concessions were granted eventually. What the council in their wisdom decided to install was something they called a tram gate. Yes, no-one in Hillsborough knew what they meant either at the time. Real gates? Metaphorical ones? Restricted access? It is very difficult to explain unless I can show it to you but I shall try…
a screen shot of Hillsborough corner (crossroads) from google maps
Hillsborough corner is, and remains, a very busy cross roads – Middlewood Road leading onto Langsett Road crossing Holme Lane leading to Bradfield Road. The tram runs along Middlewood road and, at hillsborough corner, turns into Langsett Road heading into the city centre. Middlewood is the tram terminus just outside the main hillsborough shopping areas. There is also a short spur (no-one understands) which terminates on Holme Lane which is approximately 400 yards from Hillsborough corner. Therefore, the tram runs up and down Middlewood road/Langsett road and every other tram from city centre veers off to the Holme lane terminus.
Middlewood Road/Langsett Road runs parallel to the A61 which they upgraded into an urban dual carriageway (during the Supertram works just to make everything easier at the time). However, In order for anyone to get to Stannington or Loxley you have to use Hillsborough corner whether you come from the A61 or from Middlewood Road/Langsett Road as there are no other routes. I am going to draw a diagram to explain. Essentially traffic runs on each road up to the cross road but now depending on which way you approach the cross road your choices at the junction are restricted. From Bradfield Road, you can go left onto Langsett Road or straight on to Holme Lane, not right. From Middlewood Road, you have to turn off (to the right) before you reach the cross roads, you cannot approach the junction. From Holme Lane, you can go straight on or turn left onto Middlewood Road. From Langsett Road you cannot approach the junction (unless you live very near the junction). It is bananas and even now people get confused.
The tram gate was a sign – just a large yellow sign – saying no access (except trams, buses and taxis) about 50 yards from the cross roads put up on Middlewood Road and about 150 yards before the cross roads on Langsett Road. No-one knew where they were supposed to go instead or how to access the shops. Well done everyone – excellently planned.
In 2013 the tram gate restrictions now operate from 7am-11am and then again from 4-7pm only. And that took some fighting for!! The regeneration of Hillsborough has taken a long time to bounce back from this biggest of changes and has never regained all of its lost vibrancy even to date.
Ninety four businesses went bankrupt or ceased to trade during and just after the completion of the Supertram works in Hillsborough. That was one out of every four businesses in the area. What a shameful legacy.
I am not entirely sure how Cupola survived but I am a fighter and customers as well as my family provided me with food parcels – really!! And I was grateful. I was absolutely determined to survive as I just felt that if I was going to go out of business I went down because I did, not because someone else put me out of business – if that makes any sense?
Surviving traders and those that lost their businesses gathered together funds, £50 each from as many as could afford it to try to take a claim to the European high court. Unfortunately this suit was unsuccessful. However, there was some money ‘left in the pot’ so to speak and there was a meeting called to decide what to do with it. There was around £2000 left. I was not able to attend the meeting but my neighbour went. When I later met up with him, I asked what the traders had decided to do with the remaining funds. It pains me now to tell you what was decided. In fact I find it very hard to even summon the memory without getting almost speechless with rage at the sheer stupidity of it…….
They voted….wait fot it….to spend the remaining money……..ON THE LOTTERY!!!!!!!!!!!!
I went purple, then speechless, then began to rant like a mad woman. “On the lottery” I screamed. “Are you insane? Why not just chuck the money down the drain? Or burn it?” I could not believe what I was hearing. If they couldn’t decide what to do with it, Why not put it in a an ISA or give it to charity? Or add to a Christmas decoration fund for the local shops or use it to match fund a grant bid for a local community enterprise? Anything ANYTHING but that!!! I probably said a few things I shouldn’t have including something along the lines of certain people not deserving to have a business, but there you go. Anyway, I was told very directly that I could have my money back (all £17 or whatever it was) if I didn’t agree with the decision. I took my money back.
Phew! I think I’d best leave it there. That’s enough angst for the time being. I shall be a little more upbeat in my next post. Promise 🙂
Bye for now.