The latest version of the Vision for Leeds gets its official launch at a series of community events this week. Just like the Visions that came before (in 1999 and 2004), the 2011 one too is a statement of broad ideals and aims it’s difficult to take exception to.
What the people who drafted this year’s Vision want is for everyone to rally round and make Leeds the best city in the country: “a fair, open and welcoming city with a prosperous and sustainable economy and successful communities”.
Can’t argue with that.
Now you come to mention it, it was difficult to take exception to the 2004 Vision for Leeds either, with its aims of “narrowing the gap between the most disadvantaged communities and the rest of the city” and of achieving a high quality of life for everyone – in short, making Leeds “the best place in the country to live, work and learn”.
No doubt the original 1999 Vision contained similar ideals and ambitions to be ‘best’ (I haven’t found a copy yet).
“A lot of progress”
The 2004 Vision, for example, spoke of making “a lot of progress” since the 1999 Vision, but offered little hard evidence to back the claim up.
Were fewer Leeds youngsters leaving school at 16 without a job or qualifications compared to 1999? Were there fewer Leeds communities officially rated as amongst the most deprived in the country? Had the incidence of burglary in the city fallen? Had complaints about litter and poor street maintenance risen or fallen? Were black and ethnic minority groups finding employment more easily than in 1999?
Nobody knew. Or if they knew, they weren’t saying.
So this week we’ve got another new Vision for Leeds and this one too was written without so much as a backward glance at the Visions of 1999 and 2004.
This time there’s not even a mention of any vague progress in the seven years from 2004, just a bald recognition that “since then much has changed both globally and locally”.
But you look back at the 2004 Vision, its priorities and pledges and you wonder ‘what happened to them?’
What happened to the state-of-the-art light railway system that was going to be built by 2010? And the train or tram line to Yeadon airport? Was progress made on the pledge to break the links between crime and drug use? By how much were litter, graffiti, abandoned cars, stray dogs and dog fouling reduced? How much more private investment was attracted into deprived neighbourhoods? How many new businesses were created in Beeston Hill as part of the ‘city centre expansion strategy’?
Maybe they know and it’s all good news (the Leeds Arena’s getting built after all and that was a top priority pledge!). But they’re still not saying.
Which is odd, because you’d think that when they sit down to write the latest version of the Vision the first thing they’d ask themselves would be: “what did we say last time? how have we got on? what are we going to say this time?”
It’s as though each time they start from scratch.
But wait! The penny may have dropped, because this time the Vision comes with a City Priority Plan attached, a document that says what’s going to be achieved in the next four years and how the progress is going to be measured.
Never mind the fact that some of the measures are bonkers (the reduction in anti-social behaviour is going to be measured by “improved public perception rates that anti-social behaviour is being managed effectively”)…
Never mind that some of the targets are hardly visionary, but just stuff that we pay the Council to do any way – like ensuring that more new affordable homes get built; bringing back long-term empty properties into use; cutting school truancy and the number of NEETS (youngsters not in education, employment or training), making sure more brownfield sites get developed…
Never mind that all the targets and measures are meaningless till we see what figures they’re starting from. So, how many long-term empty properties were brought back into use this year? 5? 15? 50? 100?..
And never mind that much of all of this depends on factors way beyond the control of the Council and its co-visionaries: the global recession and central government’s policy shifts to name but two…
Never mind all of that. We have at last got a Vision for Leeds that’s not just waffle about being “the best city in the country”, but, to paraphrase Council Leader Keith Wakefield, “a robust plan” that can be tested and challenged against the facts and figures!
Shame then that this is the last time we get a Vision for Leeds. The Conservative government has quietly dropped the requirement on councils to produce them. Too late for this Vision not to see the light of day, but well in time not to have any of those targets measured in 2015.