My first impression was, naturally, formed by the Barnsley Interchange - which is a triumph. A truly excellent, properly integrated, transport hub if ever you saw one (in stark contrast with the Meadowhall Interchange where I had changed trains immediately prior; blimey, what a desolate miserable place that is).
Barnsley Interchange doesn't have any boats (of course) but it did sort of remind me of Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia, (all right, I'm a hopeless old romantic, and I was only 27 when I was there) in the way that the transition from train to bus (or vice-versa) is effected so seamlessly and with such little fuss or stress. The building is splendid and the colours chosen for the interior are uplifting and cheering. I do hope it won an award, even if was only from some boring old transport engineers.
I needed to get to the Holiday Inn; and a very nice, very knowledgeable, very smiley, man directed me onto the 22 bus. The driver of the 22 bus was very welcoming, and the bus left promptly, swinging round by the shiny white refurbished town hall. And what an achievement that is.
I had the pleasure later in the to spend time with those responsible, who have located a museum and archive centre in that fine civic structure. I hope they all win major awards too. And then, wouldn't you know, the Holiday Inn was one of those anonymous faceless places on a road intersection somewhere out of town. And I didn't have a clue where to get off. So the driver of the bus, who wasn't entirely sure either, held a sort of workshop with the entire passenger cohort to take advice as to where best to drop me, and everyone joined in with alacrity offering advice and guidance (and explaining where their auntie lived) ensuring that I was safely dispatched at the right address.
What a warm welcome for a pathetic lost southerner! And as I said to them all as I skipped onto the pavement, and there were about 15 folk in total, you would never ever get that in London! Thank you Barnsley. And what a privilege to address the ACES ("over one hundred years of managing public property for the public good") conference. The ACES peeps had lined up an excellent programme and we had a lovely warm address from Daniella Barrow of ACES (yes, I can confirm she is indeed a woman leading a surveyors' organisation, you read that correctly) and Steve Pick, the acting chief executive of Barnsley, quickly followed by the keynote from David Curtis of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
This was most timely given that the HCA (described in one trade journal yesterday as "regeneration quango", I wonder if they'd still agree with that description?) had only just that day published the list of sites that it plans to release for development over the next year. It was very edifying to receive David's presentation, he is a thoroughly decent public servant, and he gave a most rounded and empowering description of how local authorities can best access the HCA and develop relationships therein.
I certainly learned a lot. I was particularly grateful for the HCA's policy in the residential sector supporting the move toward the private rented sector (PRS) as that was a great introduction for me, following him in the programme, to lay out the potential offer that UKR can bring to local authorities who wish to work in partnership to bring external investment to bear in developing mixed-use developments of economically active people (predicated on the residential component being in the PRS).
I had a very warm response and a number of offers of meetings and further support, and I will follow up all of these and follow up with ACES centrally. I was only sorry I couldn't stay longer. And I didn't get to see my mate Lee Dawson.
I sure liked the ACES people, they laughed at my jokes, and they even gave me a lovely hamper full of Barnsley goodies (not at all necessary, but much appreciated nonetheless). And I sure liked Barnsley. I look forward to returning to both.