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   Inside Out - North East: Monday 24th February, 2003


T. Dan Smith and Harold Wilson
T.DAN SMITH | A city visionary or a corrupt charlatan?

T.Dan Smith was known as 'Mr Newcastle' in the 1960s. His vision of the city as 'the Brasilia of the North' is now being re-assessed by a new generation of visionaries.

Politics, power, corruption, and scandal - T.Dan Smith's life sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie.

T. Dan Smith was a politician with a vision, and the nearest thing that Britain has ever got to an American style 'city boss'.

Many believe that he was visionary, and ahead of his time. Others see him as a charlatan, trapped in a web of corruption that nearly toppled a government.

City visions

T. Dan Smith and Cruddas Pak flats
T. Dan's vision - a dream of housing heaven and modern homes

T. Dan Smith was a working class lad from Wallsend who made good.

Having become a member of the Labour Party, he decided on a career in politics. His rise was spectacular.

He became the Leader of Newcastle City Council in the mid 1960s, and won a reputation for his charismatic and dynamic brand of politics.

Smith had a dream of a "city free and beautiful" - a modern, vibrant Newcastle to rival the very best cities in the world.
T. Dan Smith saw Newcastle as the 'Brasilia of the North' and likened the city to Milan and Manhattan.

But that dream was to end in a scandal that involving corruption charges, culminating in Smith serving six years behind bars for conspiracy and corruption.

This 'renaissance man', part politician, part poet, was sentenced to six years imprisonment for his involvement in the Poulson affair.

Streets in the sky

Smith had a vision of modernising Tyneside that included urban motorways, a metro and high profile architecture in the form of the Scandinavian style Civic Centre.

Swan House
Swan House - part of T. Dan's bold architectural vision for Newcastle

T. Dan wanted Newcastle to become "the outstanding provincial city in the country". He dreamed of "a city in the image of Athens, Florence and Rome."

"I wanted to see the creation of a 20th century equivalent of Dobson's masterpiece," said Smith in his autobiography.

"We've got to talk in terms of new cities. Just as in the Industrial Revolution, we were ahead of our time, in the age of leisure we ourselves will also be leading the way," he proclaimed.

It was a vision that is not dissimilar to the regeneration of Newcastle and Gateshead today. Smith was a keen advocate of culture and was behind a scheme to inject £90 million to make Newcastle into 'the Milan of the North'.

A sense of community

Cruddas Park flats today
A city in the sky - Cruddas Park was one of T. Dan's housing visions

Smith's vision also embraced the man in the street, but his plans to clear the slums and build decent housing were not universally approved of.

One of the most criticised Smith plans was for high rise housing. The Cruddas Park housing scheme was part of T. Dan Smith's grand plan for a 'city in the sky'.

The flats were built by Wimpey to a Swedish modular design. It was later to be alleged that Dan Smith took cash and other benefits for awarding the contracts.

Some of Smith's other monuments have also failed to last the test of time - most notably Swan House and the hotch-potch of John Dobson Street's spaghetti walkways.

After prison

T. Dan car number plate
T. Dan's Jaguar, a symbol of his success in happier days

After his release from prison T. Dan Smith became involved with charity work for the Howard League, helping reformed ex-offenders.

Smith described his time in prison as "very humiliating" and it made him an advocate of the compassionate approach to solving the problems of crime.

"I feel my experiences in prison have helped me to help them," said T. Dan at the time.

He also initiated a number of community projects involving sport and the arts aimed at helping young people.

Smith's legacy

So was he a visionary? His supporters point out that he was a tireless fighter for the North East, a 'crusader' fighting to redress the North-South divide.

Critics accuse him of being a ruthless dictator, and running the City Council like a business entrepreneur with little accountability. In his defence T. Dan said, "I'm not a villain, I never have been a villain."

Whatever your view, Smith's legacy still lives on in the streets of Newcastle. Today T. Dan is as much admired for his vision as for his concrete achievements.

Smith remains an old-style 'city father' whose visions are now being reclaimed by a younger generation.

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Amber Films - T. Dan Smith
European Capital of Culture
Cruddas Park flats

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