Has history painted us the wrong picture of T Dan Smith?

T DAN Smith should be remembered as an inspirational leader who recreated Newcastle, a new book will claim.

T Dan Smith

T DAN Smith should be remembered as an inspirational leader who recreated Newcastle, a new book will claim. The controversial council boss was a fall guy for the corruption of others according to Durham author Chris Foote Wood.

At a book launch in the city library this Thursday Mr Foote Wood will reveal why he believes the six year sentence handed down to Smith was a gross injustice against a man who dedicated himself to Newcastle and the North East.

In the 1970s Yorkshire architect John Poulson, former Newcastle Council leader Smith and former Durham councillor Andy Cunningham were all arrested for their role in corruption over building contracts for local authorities.

Mr Foote Woods biography T Dan Smith Voice of the North Down Fall of a Visionary uses witness statements from the court hearing to show how corrupt architect Poulson was awarded many contracts from the Peterlee Corporation long before Smith joined them. Smith was also on Poulsons payroll as a public relations agent.

I challenge anyone to read this book and not agree with me that even though he pleaded guilty he was most definitely not guilty as charged, Mr Foote Wood said.

There is no doubt that he is the biggest politician the North East ever had. No doubt. When he got a parking ticket it was in the national pages.

Mr Foote Wood said the fighting presence of T Dan Smith changed the face of the North East.

He was only leader for five years and he transformed the city. He should be remembered as a great council leader.

Eldon Square is a great example of this. He bought up properties and built the shopping district. This now has enabled Newcastle to stand up to the likes of the Metrocentre and without him we would be lost.

Mr Foote Wood said Smiths private work running PR was another sign of his success, although one which would eventually link him to Poulson and their twin downfall.

Poulson was corrupt. There is no question about that. But the relation between the two was a sign of the times. In those days it was common practice for companies to treat officers and councillors and MPs, to hotel rooms, meals, drinks even holidays. It was standard practice.

His book explains how former Tory Home Secretary Reginald Maudling was also linked to Poulson and did not allow the police to crack down on the architect.

Mr Foote Wood said: Was Smith a fall guy? Maudling worked for Poulsons companies, promoted him in parliament and was found to have breached Parliaments rules.

But nothing happened to Poulson, and Maudling got away with it.

It was only when Poulson was made bankrupt that everything else came out.

He added: Smith knew by the time he was up on the third corruption charge that he had had enough. Hed had enough of the harassment of him and his family.

He was told this would go on unless he pleaded guilty, and was expecting just six months, he got six years, he served three...

He has been treated very badly by history for doing nothing wrong really and this is the chance to put the record straight. The evidence is all here.

Page 2: A man of outstanding gifts brought low by the lure of easy cash

A man of outstanding gifts brought low by the lure of easy cash

Former council leader JEREMY BEECHAM knew T Dan Smith better than most

I FIRST encountered Dan Smith at a Labour Party Branch meeting in 1960.

He was then leader of the council andhousing chairman, and in the course of his address said that he wouldprefer to have been working directly for the council rather than, assomeone in the painting and decorating business, being a contractor forit. Even to a 15-year-old this didnt quite ring true!

There was, however, no mistaking hispolitical gifts. A flamboyant, charismatic figure and brilliantdebater, he dominated the council chamber and was instantlyrecognisable throughout Newcastle, and not just when, long before JohnPrescott, he drove his Jaguar round town with its famous DAN 68 numberplates.

Nothing much had happened in Newcastle localpolitics since local democracy began in 1835 until the Dan Smith era,with the possible exception being the mysterious disappearance of twofire engines during WW2.

Dan changed that with a massive slumclearance and house-building drive, the countrys first proper planningdepartment, the introduction of comprehensive education, redevelopmentof the city centre and the groundwork for Eldon Square, alongside onethe countrys first housing renewal schemes for older homes, public art,and the promotion of the city as the regional capital.

Smith held the view that the fortunes ofNewcastle and the North East were inextricably linked, and that eachneeded the other to be strong if either were to prosper.

Political leadership of the council wasreinforced by a Policy and Resources Committee and the appointment ofthe countrys first modern-style Chief Executive, instead of thetraditional Town Clerk.

In five short years as council leader DanSmith wrote himself into local government history alongside such greatfigures as Joseph Chamberlain and Herbert Morrison. He achievednational acclaim, and the accolade, unique for a local council leader,of an appearance on Desert Island Discs.

And yet, of course, alongside these lastingachievements, and the occasional mistakes such as the demolition of theRoyal Arcade, there eventually emerged a darker side. He saw a greatdeal of money being made in the construction and development world frompublic decisions, and at a time when councillors received no recompensefor their time and effort, decided he wanted his share.

And so began the sorry saga of corruption,not actually in Newcastle, which dragged down many local governmentfigures and even a Conservative Home Secretary, and landed Smith injail.

Nothing can excuse that, but equally hispositive achievements should not be forgotten. Visionary or villain?Actually, and sadly, both.

Page 3: Council leader says predecessor's legacy has not worn well

Council leader says predecessor's legacy has not worn well

THE current leader of Newcastle Council,Liberal Democrat John Shipley, will speak at the book launch atNewcastle City Library this Thursday.

And despite praise for T Dan Smithscommitment to the city, he makes no attempt to gloss over the flaws ofa man who led the city for just five years from 1960-65 but whoseimpact remains to this day, 17 years after his death.

As with all books on Dan Smiths life it will be fascinating to see how he is viewed, said Mr Shipley.

We already know he had an impressivecommitment to our society and was dedicated to improving livingconditions for people in the city.

But he made serious mistakes in his personal life.

Mr Shipley also disagreed with attempts toreevaluate Smiths contribution to the architecture of the city, changedfor ever by his ambitious plans for motorways and big buildings.

What he did to many parts of the city hasnot stood the test of time, he said. There are a number of 1960sbuildings which we are now having to knock down because they are veryobviously unsuitable.

And his plans to turn Newcastle into the Brasilia of the North was way over the top.

Newcastle has a long and proud history and we have to build on that not just ignore it and look for the next big thing.

Dan Smith will have an important role to play in that history and itll be interesting to read this latest take on it.


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