Rod McPhee: Anti-graffiti drive on the wrong track

It was with a deep, perplexed frown that I watched Network Rail staff and volunteers painting over graffiti alongside a Leeds railway track this week.

I'm not talking about a few, indiscriminate scrawls with felt tips and spray cans but pretty full-on street art which I'd always rather admired whenever I travelled on the route in question. And the fact the route in question is in deepest darkest Burley – the heart of urban Leeds – made it particularly unbelievable.

But there's more...this graffiti was painted in a location where virtually no one EXCEPT rail travellers could view it, not even the people who lived in the houses on which it was painted could see the stuff – I wonder if the residents in question really minded it being there? I know I wouldn't.

Network Rail seemed to mind terribly though. But why exactly? I'd like to know because while I understand it represents a danger to have people trespassing on the railway and while I acknowledged people have the right not to have their homes defaced, I'm not convinced that was at the heart of their beef with the graffiti.


Said artists often don't do themselves many favours, I grant you. They frequently choose possibly the worst places to display their work, but often they'll just select the most inoffensive of bare brick walls to paint on.

And, no, I'm not talking about the front of someone's house but, as in this case, the end of someone's house. Or maybe it will be some stark steel bridge, or an old warehouse.

The point is that these guys, the bona fide street artists, aren't necessarily defacing anything at all, in fact in many ways they're enhancing our urban environment. It is, after all, a city and street art is part of our cultural mix.

The sooner we appreciate that and try to encourage the artists in question to perform their art in more appropriate places the better.

Network Rail are yet another organisation of an establishment which dislikes street art because of its slightly anarchic, youthful nature and because they don't quite understand it.


They don't think it should besmirch the sightlines of their passengers, they try and fool us into thinking they're somehow standing up for our rights not to have vulgar images rammed down our throats.

But what say do we have in the countless billboards which we're exposed to on public transport? Eh? What right do we have not to have advertising subliminally and consciously altering our thought processes every minute of every day?

Isn't the only difference that one is a form of organic art and the other a means of getting more money out of us and giving the train and station operators more cash?

If the homeowners in question were willing to let the side of their houses out to advertising billboards would Network Rail be as equally concerned?

So, here's a challenge to them: Why don't they and the train operators ask passengers whether, rather than have advertising plastered in stations, shelters and along railway lines they'd rather have examples of modern art – including street art – displayed in its place?

I bet I know what the answer would be and I bet Network Rail and all those other companies wouldn't put their money where their mouth is and make the switch.

Interesting...but will it happen?

HMMMM, I've just seen images of the proposed new south entrance to Leeds city train station – and I'm not sure.

I admire the fact they've plumped for a contemporary look but it's not an instantly pleasing design, at least not on paper. Perhaps it will look better in real life.

But the biggest question must be: when will it actually happen? The authorities have been talking about this for what seems like years yet only now do things seem to be getting moving.

It's all well and good creating such a modern-looking construction, but by the time it actually gets built might it end up looking horribly out of date?

Give us back our Briggate

FOUR months after they put the Trinity Shopping Centre on ice I notice the developers have done little more to cover up the eyesore that is the bombsite they've left behind.

The biggest bugbear must be the fact that the hoardings currently jut half way into Briggate, swallowing up a huge chunk of Leeds's biggest and most important thoroughfare. How can they get away with this – and who's letting them?

The developers in question have inadvertently allowed us to take a peep into the space with the occasional gap here and there and if you do have a look you'll see that there's virtually nothing behind those hoardings.

So why are they in the middle of the street? More importantly, if the scheme is on hold for months and months shouldn't they be made to move anything which is there?

Maybe something will change soon, I hope so.

Or maybe no one in authority in Leeds gives a damn. At the moment that's how it looks.

Trinity Shopping Centre

Trinity Shopping Centre in Leeds city centre evacuated