Grant Woodward: As Leeds suffers, London builds another vanity project

The Garden Bridge over the Thames is set to cost �175m, with �60m coming from the public purse. Image: Arup.
The Garden Bridge over the Thames is set to cost �175m, with �60m coming from the public purse. Image: Arup.
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Splurging £60m of public money on Garden Bridge shows decision makers’ continued contempt for the North. Follow Grant on Twitter @woodwardworld.

HERE in Leeds – the city hoping to be European Capital of Culture in 2023, remember – opening hours at museums, galleries and other visitor attractions have been cut and the equivalent of 23 full-time jobs slashed in a bid to save £500,000.

Down in London, £60m of public money is about to be frittered away on a garden bridge. That’s right. A garden bridge.

What the hell’s a garden bridge, I hear you ask. Well it’s basically a footbridge with shrubs on.

Not that the part of the capital it’s earmarked for actually needs a new bridge, with or without vegetation. In fact, many of the locals are just as baffled by it as the rest of us.

But it was the idea of arch-luvvy Joanna Lumley, you see. She thought it would make a pretty tribute to Princess Diana.

Oh, and did I mention she’s a close friend of London mayor Boris Johnson?

When asked on telly whether it had been a hard sell, the Ab Fab star said: “I’ve known Boris since he was four, so he was largely quite amenable.”

I’ll bet he was. And that’s how it seems to work 170 miles down the M1. You have an idea, however monumentally stupid and wasteful, pitch it to someone in power who happens to be a close personal friend and hey presto, you get the tens of millions of pounds needed to fund it.

Never mind that the cash being pumped into this vanity project would keep every hard-pressed museum in Yorkshire going for decades, because who cares about the plebs up North anyway?

This bone-chilling contempt runs right through the decision to transfer a valuable photography collection from West Yorkshire to London too.

Culture Minister John Whittingdale this week ruled out any intervention in the shifting of 270,000 historic images from the Media Museum over in Bradford.

Good to know the bloke in charge of spreading cultural enlightenment to every part of the country is fighting our corner, eh?

And he showed exactly what he thought of the Media Museum – set up specifically as a national museum in 1983 in an attempt to move collections beyond the capital – by referring to it as a “satellite”.
West Yorkshire artist David Hockney has dubbed it an act of ‘cultural vandalism’. I disagree. It’s more like cultural pillaging.

Ok, so its repercussions are not on the same tragic scale, but in terms of wilful abandonment this government’s treatment of the North is akin to Imelda Marcos snapping up designer shoes as millions of Filipinos languished in poverty.

Or the Ceaucescus building their fifteenth gold-filled palace while the rest of Romania considered eating a banana a luxury.

The Northern Powerhouse is now officially a joke. This week it was revealed that 97 per cent of the civil servants supposedly tasked with delivering it are based in London.

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. When Sir Michael Heseltine – a man who showed how to regenerate the North in the 1980s – produced a brilliant report setting out the road to another regional renaissance it was largely ignored.

When cheap Chinese imports cost thousands of steel industry jobs, the government refused to bail out manufacturers in the North but are only too happy to prop up the scandal-hit London-based banking sector.

And not content with pulling thousands of government jobs out of Yorkshire, as they recently announced they plan to, they’re now coming for the region’s cultural treasures.

Of all the lies we’ve been fed over the years, the Northern Powerhouse has to be the biggest. A whopper of epic proportions.

Far from rebalancing the economy away from the South East and rebuilding the North, this government is actively giving people less opportunity to work here, less reason to live here and less incentive to so much as pay us a visit.

You’ve shamed NHS into u-turn

LEEDS man Dominic Horsley kept being told he was too young to have prostate cancer.

But when he was finally given a scan, doctors found an advanced tumour that had spread to his leg and pelvis.

He was told he needed chemotherapy – but would have to pay £1,400 for the privilege or go to Huddersfield or Manchester.

This was because the NHS in Leeds didn’t fund the particular treatment he needed, but the other two did.

Except Dominic couldn’t go to Manchester or Huddersfield because he was told he had to be minutes away from the hospital in case the chemo saw him take a turn for the worse.

Bonkers.

After we told his story in the YEP, big-hearted readers got in touch offering to donate money to Dominic so he could afford to get the treatment in his home city.

It encouraged him and his family to set up a fundraising site. At last count the total stood at just over £3,000.

Now the NHS has done a u-turn and fast-tracked the treatment to make it more widely available – without patients having to cough up for the privilege.

This, of course, is nothing more than common sense. When lives are at stake it’s disgraceful that such postcode lotteries are allowed to exist.

But well done to YEP readers for showing health bosses the error of their ways and shaming them into a move that will benefit cancer sufferers in the city.

William’s guilty of pulling rank

I CAN’T say I blame Prince William for wanting to take time off with his kids. Just about every new dad would love to do the same.

But those pictures of his skiing holiday were rubbing it in a bit too much. Let’s not forget, Wills is paid to do a job – in his case flying the East Anglian Air Ambulance.

But colleagues there are grumbling over the not-exactly-taxing 20 hours a week he does. And it’s not as if he’s been doing many Royal engagements either.

As I say, most dads would do the same given half a chance. But we can’t.

William’s mum made a point of bringing up her sons to be as normal and as down-to-earth as possible.

When they went to theme parks or the cinema she made them queue along with everyone else and was determined that they should retain some humility.

But I’m afraid William is guilty of pulling rank with his light workload and extended paternity leave – and as usual we’re the mugs who are funding it.

Diana, Princess of Wales. PIC: PA

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