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Alsop v Wakefield - the battle continues

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It is good to know that Will Alsop has discovered Wakefield, (AJ 28.8.03) and that he has attended one of the many different courses that Public Arts has organised since it moved into the Orangery eight years ago.

But what a pity that he has not had time to discover how much has been done, and how much has gone on in the past 20 years - since Arthur Scargill's disastrous miners' strike spelt the end of the city's industrial role and led to the city fathers reinventing Wakefield's role as a centre of hi-tech industry, tourism and distribution.

Just a few of the award winning developments that seem to have escaped his attention include Peter Marshall's Treacy Hall extension to the cathedral;

Capital & Counties' Ridings shopping centre (the first in Europe, and still one of the best, to introduce an American-style food mall); Tess Jaray's imaginative redesign of the city centre precinct, which successfully, and uniquely, melds the Gothic of the cathedral with the plate-glass of the high-street multiples;

Pugneys Water Park on the site of a previous open-cast coal excavation; the restoration of Frank Matcham's Opera House; the innovative purpose-built hospice; and the National Mining Museum at Flockton.All of these, and others, have won regional, national and European awards of one sort or another but, more importantly, have transformed the quality of life for Wakefield's citizens, as well as attracting visitors from a wide area.

It is a pity, also, that while he was at the Orangery, Will did not have the opportunity to discover how much Public Arts has achieved in the past decade. Its work spreads far beyond the city boundaries; but within the city it has involved local communities in enhancing their environment as a pleasant place to live, work and play. One thinks, for instance, of work done at Henry Moore's birthplace; of the rejuvenation of the waterfront; and of communal gardens on some of the saddest housing estates. Even more important has been Public Arts' advocacy of 'Per cent for Art', which has been instrumental in challenging both clients and architects to look again at the impact that some of the most utilitarian buildings might have on users and passers-by.

That there is still plenty to do is undeniable. That is the mark of a living and vibrant community that is continually renewing itself. That 'nothing has happened of any significance for years' is a travesty of the truth, unless, of course, you believe that work is only of significance if it is led by Will Alsop or some other national figure.

John Allen, former Provost of Wakefield (1982-97)

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