How long will it take to fix our buses?
Plus, Sheffield takes over the national airwaves
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
New South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard has got a lot on his plate. He has powers over economic development and regeneration, and the possibility of more to come on policing. But of all the issues in his in-tray, the most pressing is public transport. Last week, he started what’s likely to be the long and difficult process of trying to bring the region’s buses back under public control. Today we look at some of the challenges he’s likely to face.
We also feature two good pieces about Sheffield’s brutalist past and recommend a great new exhibition of photography by Love Sheffield founder Brian Mosley at the Cathedral’s 1554 cafe.
Catch up and coming up
On Saturday we featured an extract from Survivors of Steel City, Geoffrey Beattie’s great book about hard times and resilience in 1980s Sheffield. That piece can still be found here.
Last week we published two great newsletters to our 670 paying members. The first was a fascinating piece by David Bocking about the bitter battle over Sheffield grouse moors and the second was an interview I did with a city sportswoman who was forced to give up her career after being subjected to racist abuse. An extract from the first piece is below:
If you visit Big Moor on the edge of Totley just now, the damp green landscape feels alive. Adders are there, and squelching moss. Finches, sharp-eyed birds of prey and dozens of red deer hide away in the undergrowth. It’s a sylvan fantasy: a comforting reminder of the way we think life should be in the Peak District. Just a few miles away, on some of the moors in between the Rivelin and the Upper Don, it’s a very different story. Here, the lush green of Big Moor is replaced by a different landscape: heather, rocks and not much else except for the deep-throated cackle of red grouse. Scorched patches of earth mark the area out as a battleground. It looks the way it does because it has been designed to hunt grouse on.
This week we’ll publish two more including a look at the long-running Sheffield university strike and an interview with the creator of a much-loved South Yorkshire cartoon character. To get both of those and help fund a new way of doing journalism in South Yorkshire, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs just £1.34 a week if you pay for the year upfront.
A radical redemption?
A new solo exhibition of work by Barnsley-based artist John B Ledger is now open at Bloc Projects on Eyre Lane. Ledger says his chaotic-yet-meticulous drawings — which feel reminiscent of Keith Haring — are a reference to the post-industrial landscape he grew up in. The exhibition is free and runs until May 28.
This week’s weather
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say the jet stream ramps up and powers low pressures close to the UK for much of the coming week, with high pressure attempting a weekend comeback.
Monday 🌦 bright spells, light breezes and an increasing risk of showers during the afternoon, some heavy. Highs of 17°C.
Tuesday 🌦 further showers at times in between brighter spells. Westerly breezes noticeably freshening; cooler with highs of 16°C.
Wednesday 🌦 low pressure still calling the shots with further showers, perhaps decreasing in coverage later. Windy with highs again of 16°C.
Thursday 🌥 staying rather blustery from the west but the shower risk should be transferring northwards. Drier and brighter periods more common; highs of 17°C.
Friday 🌥 high pressure continues its renewed push northwards, with winds slowly easing. Generally dry and bright with highs of 17°C.
Outlook: high pressure settles our weather down during the weekend with variable cloud and some warm sunshine as temperatures recover. A lot of dry weather is expected.
To see the full forecast and keep up to date with any changes to the outlook, follow Steel City Skies on Facebook.
The big story: How long will it take to fix our buses?
Top line: New South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard said last week that he had taken “significant steps” to improve public transport in the region. But how long will it take?
Pretty hopeless: In 1986, bus deregulation was sold as something that would increase competition and be better for passengers, but it is now universally seen as a failure. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme last Friday, the new mayor agreed that bus services in South Yorkshire were “pretty hopeless” and said they had been like that for far too long.
What has he announced? Unveiling what he called “aggressive moves” on public transport last week, Coppard said he has begun the process of delivering a so-called “franchised” bus service where routes, timetables and fares are regulated by local government. This includes:
Designating a director and dedicated team to oversee an assessment of a franchised bus service with the responsibility of delivering on this process “at pace”.
Asking operators to share six years of their patronage, performance and financial data, allowing the team assess both the benefits and the risks of franchising.
The long game: If these sound like quite small steps, that’s because they are. Andy Burnham’s experience in Greater Manchester has shown there are plenty of legal loopholes to jump through and Coppard wants to make sure the arguments about a franchised model are completely watertight — otherwise there is a possibility the bus companies could sue.
Public control vs public ownership: Many on the left of his party see franchising as a fudge and want Coppard to go further and faster, bypassing public control in favour of full public ownership. This would essentially recreate the municipal bus service that used to exist in Sheffield until the 1980s, which famously charged just 10p per journey (2p for children).
Quick wins: In the absence of any kind of silver bullet on bus reform, Coppard has also gone for some “quick wins” on public transport to show he’s doing something about it.
These include extending the youth travel scheme Zoom Beyond which gives young people aged 18-21 single fares for just 80p across the South Yorkshire network.
He’s also extended the free use of park and ride facilities across South Yorkshire which he hopes will mean more people choose public transport for their journeys.
What about Supertram? As well as changes to the bus system, plenty of people are calling for him to extend Supertram to other parts of Sheffield and South Yorkshire. In an interview with the Yorkshire Post, Coppard said he also wanted to extend the tram network but at this stage it’s unclear where the significant investment that would be needed would come from.
Bottom line: As we wrote in our piece about him before the election, come 2026, whether the bus system has improved is likely to be the thing Oliver Coppard will be judged on. He knows he will need to move quickly to have any chance of making significant progress by then — but it took Greater Manchester five years to get to a franchised model. In truth, we’re unlikely to do it any quicker.
Home of the week
This stunning two-bedroomed Rivelin villa has a beautiful private garden and access to the vast communal grounds of the King Edwards development. It is on the market for £495,000.
Our favourite reads
An important story on the BBC website about the tragic case of Jack Ritchie, a Sheffield gambling addict who took his own life in 2017. Jack’s parents Liz and Charles told BBC Breakfast this morning that they were worried that a long-promised review of the industry would not got far enough. Our piece about Jack can still be found here.
A brilliant interview in the Observer with Sheffield music legend Jarvis Cocker. Interviewer Olivia Laing speaks to the former Pulp frontman about his new memoir and includes the memorable line: “He imbued the Sheffield suburbs of Catcliffe, Ecclesall and the Wicker with the same seedy glamour as Serge Gainsbourg’s Montmartre or Lou Reed’s East Village.”
Two nice pieces in The Star from earlier this month by Charlie Smith look at two of Sheffield's most famous brutalist developments — Park Hill and Kelvin flats. The blocks were both built in the 1960s but would fare remarkably differently in the 1990s, with the unloved Kelvin being knocked down in 1995 but Park Hill going on to be listed and renovated.
All the fun of the fayre
Eight thousand people attended Weston Park’s May Fayre on Sunday. The event, which was the brainchild of the University of Sheffield’s fair and circus expert Vanessa Toulmin, brought a host of nostalgic entertainment including a carousel, a helter-skelter and circus acts. Photo by Sheffield City Council.
Things to do
Photography: The 33,000 members of the Love Sheffield Facebook group provide regular and much-welcome reminders of just how fantastic our city is. Now, its selfless creator Brian Mosley has been rewarded with a photography exhibition at Sheffield Cathedral which features many of the best photos he’s shared on the group in recent years. The exhibition will be in the cathedral’s 1554 coffee shop and gallery and begins on Monday, May 23.
Talk: Trans rights activist Shon Faye will be speaking about her new book The Transgender Issue at Sheffield Students’ Union as part of Opus Independents’ Festival of Debate on Tuesday, May 24 (7.30pm-9.00pm). Chaired by Finn Warman, the artistic director of Andro and Eve, the discussion aims to cut through the current media frenzy and reveal that we have been having the wrong conversation for far too long. Tickets are £9 (£7 concessions).
Listen: Sheffield took over the airwaves on Friday as new BBC political editor Chris Mason reported for Radio 4 from the city. He spoke to new mayor Oliver Coppard and BBC Radio Sheffield’s political editor Lucy Ashton on the station’s PM programme, visited the under threat Leadmill music venue and then presented Any Questions with guests including David Blunkett and Sheffield Star editor Nancy Fielder. Both programmes are well worth a listen.
‘Articulate first hand accounts tell so much more than facts and figures’, 'There's not much happening in Sheffield any more. It's a dead town', Bill Stephenson
‘Shocking that such a talented sportswoman experienced such racism’, She reached the very top of her sport. Then she was called a terrorist, James Coleman
‘Very interesting article. Bravo for raising this issue’, The bitter battle over Sheffield's grouse moors, Simon Biltcliffe
‘Excellent journalism. Spot on the button’, Does Sheffield council need a formal coalition?, Maggie Young