CIVIC planners, before they die, should certainly not go to Naples. They would only be depressed. They should go to T-Centralen in Stockholm, to spend their final hours among the over- and under passes, the traffic-free precincts. the stations and arcades of a planned city centre which actually works. They can take their wheelchairs with them.

Symmetry starts at the airport. The bus leaves at precisely 15 minutes past the hour; and takes 45 minutes precisely to reach central Stockholm. arriving at T-Centralen •on the hour exactly. The bus stop is unprepossess ing, a mere shelter; but across the road is the main railway station, which offers to take you to any Swedish town.susceptible to rail, while under ,the road, and under all ·the buildings nea,rby, is the main underground station, from which you can go, without changing, to all the other stops in Stock holm's archipelago of districts-out to the suburbs where white wood houses stand in square family plots, to the narrow cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, to the wooded slopes of Bagarmossen or to any of a dozen stately avenues flanking the lakes.

It is all deceptively simple. You have to look at a map of Stockholm to appreciate it, for ·the city sprawls un-geometrically over rivers and islands, incorporating ancient townships with new housing estates. T-Centralen provides the key to the maze. It ,is the common pattern, the travelers' guide and friend. You slot T-Centralen into your mind, like a plastic access card, and it chums out destinations. It takes five minutes precisely to learn how the underground works-the flat-rate fares, the simple labelling of directions; and then it is almost impossible to get lost

I am very good at getting lost. I am an expert. I can drive around the ring roads of Sheffield and Birmingham, within sight of where I want,to go but never getting there. In Warsaw, I never knew where I was, even after I had arrived. In Stockholm, I only got lost once; and even then I was not exactly lost, only temporarily mislaid. I was on the right line, travelling in the right direction, but on an inner-city train, which did not go as far as I wanted to go. Just past Zinkensdamm station, the train veered from the main line and into a tunnel, with primeval walls of hewn rock.

The train stopped. The carriage was empty and the lights were turned out. There was an eerie glow on the jagged stone, as if we were approaching the customs barrier to hell. Then the glow faded. Darkness and silence and panic. Minutes passed or some very long seconds. Then footsteps. A light flashed into the carriage. A guard with a torch stood in the tunnel. He beckoned me to follow him through the train to the driver's cabin, where he switched on a pilot light. I leafed through the phrasebook to find the Swedish for 'you have shunted me into a siding'. He was a tall, blond guard, with Nordic eyes, blue and searching. 'It's easy to get lost in a foreign country, isn't it?' he said, in English so perfect that it included Home Counties tact. He drove me back to T-Centralen, to start again.

Nearly everybody at T-Centralen spoke some English-the waitresses, the girls in the shops, the inspectors, and businessmen, for T-Centralen is more than a station. It leads to the main shopping district; and you can wander through parades of boutiques and restaurants to NK, Stockholm's central department store, which faces an open-air ice-rink. Other exits led to the red-light district. In November, bands were playing carols and marches in the square by the Klara Theatre, an adjunct of T-Centralen, where drunks and drug addicts congregate on Saturday night. All human llfe was there, and bi-lingual. The political graffiti sternly told the Russians in two languages to get out of Lithuania.

No mixed-development programme in Britain can compare with T Centralen and its surroundings. Birmingham's Bull Ring is too garish and commercial. London's South Bank is too concrete and cultural; and if we look at that bare, windswept roundabout between Waterloo and the National Theatre, where the plants wither in concrete boxes and buskers dare not play in case their caps freeze to the pavement, while retaining in our mind the merest whiff of T-Centralen's piazzas (which are roundabouts), our reaction must be of ashamed shock, guilt almost-,that we have made such a mess of a simple civic project, when the Swedes have been so successful with a complicated one.

Other awkward comparisons can be made. The sandwich bars in London's stations are sordid, selling existence food for those who do not rate existence highly. T-Centralen's cafes offer tempting open sandwiches, neatly cellophaned. Our tube platforms are decorated either with banal tiles or equally banal posters. The Swedish authorities commissioned murals for the T-Centralen platforms (and others). Though opinions may differ about the merits of Platform 5 as opposed to Platform I, they proclaim that somebody has bothered about the appearance of a service, as well as its function. The murals lend personalities. One may be starkly polemical; while another plunges you into a Disneyland, with bare rocks painted bright blue, with greenish tints, like a tunnel of love

The stylish efficiency of T-Centralen reflects other sides to Swedish life. It should be admired; but when I talk with friends about Stockholm, their reactions, like mine, are distinctly mixed. They may love sad, talkative, boozy Dublin; revel in frenetic New York; adore Paris; feel at home in London; but when they mention Stockholm, the slopes of their admiration are covered by a forest of 'buts'. 'Stockholm's a beautiful city, but it's rather dull'.

Outsiders generalize about the Swedish character in a way which would be considered racist if applied elsewhere. Eisenhower set the trend with some macabre political one-upmanship. He pointed out that Sweden may be a country where socialism seems to work, but Swedes top the world's suicide league. That odd statistic was challenged at the time; and the Swedes retorted ·that, even if it were true, their suicide rate was lower than the murder rate in the United States. If you must kill people, it is more civilized to kill yourself than others

In May 1975, a delegation from the British Regional Arts Associations visited Sweden for three days to look at the way jn which arts are subsidized in the regions. Their report, drafted by Anthony Phillips, was published as an appendix to the Redcliffe-Maud proposals. Phillips found much to admire in the Swedish system, but commented on 'a degree of conformism unthinkable in Britain'.

'However impressed you are,' he wrote, 'with the thoughtful practicality of the planning, you cannot help feeling that the results often do not match up to the planners' ambitions, and this was certainly true of the disappointing artistic productions of whatever genre that we were shown. This might be saying no more than the trite (quite possibly untrue, as well) generalization that the Swedish people are not aesthetically imaginative'. Yes, it is trite, and untrue, and a curious remark to include in an almost official report, based on a three-day visit to Ostergotland, which is not the best vantage point from which to survey the entire aesthetic imagination of the Swedish people.

We all have mixed feelings about Sweden, even the Swedes. Swedish girls told me that Swedish men have the bad habit of getting middle-aged and anxious too young. They worry about their marriages and love affairs till all the fun goes. No male visitor dare comment; but he does notice the dry theatres, the state liquor shops and the zeal with which they tackle real (and unreal) social problems. He may come, as I did, with certain misbeliefs about Swedish culture.

We know about the gloomy Swedes. Strindberg and Ingmar Bergman, but not about the cheerful ones, like Bellman. Somebody from Britain also wonders about how much individuality has been sacrificed to make the planning work. How many small shops and private homes were acquired (and by what means) to build T-Centralen? Swedish society depends upon a high degree of co-operation on all levels-between central government and the local authorities, between managements and employees, state enterprises and private ones.

That co-operation can be mistaken for conformism. Perhaps it is conformist. Recently, an Act was passed, similar to the recommendations in our Bullock report, which gives employees a direct say in how their firms should be run. This admirable extension of democracy relies on a general sense of responsibility. But the Swedes usually are responsible. Successive British governments might well envy the forty-four years of Social Democratic rule which solved so many problems which pester us still. Where is good old British bloody-mindedness?

The Swedes can be bloody-minded, in a Swedish way anxiously, idealistically, morally. While Phillips was writing his report, sections of the theatre were behaving most unconventionally, by breaking away from the system. The 'free theatre' movement began in the early 1970s and now accounts for more than a third of the performance given in Sweden. It was a founder member of IFIT, the international association of free theatres, to which none of our fringe theatres belong. But the Swedish 'free theatres' are not quite like our fringe.

Our fringe theatres were started mainly by newcomers, eager to break into the profession. Their 'free theatres' were established by leading actors who wanted to break out.

Why did they want to exchange secure jobs in state-subsidized theatres for a very precarious life? At the Fria Proteatern, an actor, the chairperson of Swedish Equity, passed the hat round after one performance. In a country where most theatres are subsidized by British standards very highly, the free theatres have had to struggle for their grants which even in 1978 were very low.

Forty-four free theatres were receiving about £600,000 between them, whereas the Swedish national theatre, Dramaten, had a state grant of £4 million, with large civic grants as well. From what repression did the 'free' actors escape to live on a diet of brown rice? They could not complain about censorship (or could they?) for Swedish cultural policy expressly forbids censorship.

Some free actors hold pure socialist ideals, similar to our Workers' Revolutionary Party. They wanted to set up acting communes. Others simply resented the way in which local quangos appointed their artistic directors. The underlying reasons, however, may have been more emotional but less clearly defined: a dislike of state paternalism, a fear that their old security was getting them nowhere, a vague worry that the Swedish form of socialism would tum out to be another mural disguising the harsh realities of life and even a panic that the painted ,tunnel in which they were living would suddenly change course, to leave them staring into the black ness beyond some spiritual Zinkensdamm.

If these were also motives (and I am merely guessing), it could explain why these maverick groups have caught the imagination. Established theatres imitate them, even the Royal Dramatic Theatre. Last year, Dramaten staged an untypical agit-prop documentary, The Seventh Question. It caused a scandal and could even have been one of many factors contributing to the downfall of the Centre-Right coalition, which replaced the Social Democrats about three years ago

By British standards, the current Swedish political crisis seems very moderate. I am writing in the depths of a British winter. We are surrounded by snow, strikes, the threat of a national emergency, IRA bombings and secondary pickets. We face a divisive election, Weimar-like inflation, threats to law and order, and the collapse of political parties. Someone sooner or later will have to uncork the Dunkirk spirit to see if a drop remains in the bottle. Our crises are immediate, about next week's food and refuse services. From the vantage point of London, it requires a leap of imagination to believe that the Swedes have a crisis at all.

From a greater distance, however, that of future history, the Swedish crisis may seem of more importance than ours. It began with the shortage of energy. The Swedes have no large resources of fuel; and they, like us, were badly hit by the rise in oil prices. Their economy suffered accordingly, and continues to do so. The long-term answer is to build nuclear power stations; but even with fast breeder reactors, there remains a residue of radio-active waste, lethal to all life, whose virulence decays in power slowly, over tens of thousands of years.

Scientists have not yet discovered a safe way to get rid of this dangerous stuff. At one time. we were simply encasing the waste in concrete blocks and dumping it in the Atlantic. Sooner or later, these blocks will break up and whole areas of the Atlantic will become polluted.

Safer methods have since been devised. to transfor the waste into a heat- and water-resistant substance like glass; but even so these glass blocks have to be placed in thick canisters and buried in parts of the country where the rocks are not subject to geological shifts and movements. The Windscale enquiry in Britain decided that the risks on balance were worth taking. The British atomic energy programme has been established for a long time at great expense. The prospect of getting some money back by disposing of radio active waste from other countries must be very tempting-in e short term.

The Swedes, however, are not so sanguine or so deeply committed. They are more alarmed than we are at the prospect of buried poison which could return to plague and destroy future generations. If they have to build their whole industrial economy on nuclear power, 1the deposits could build up alarmingly.

The Swedes are strong environmentalists: they have a vision of the good life, rural in inspiration. Their political parties are deeply divided. The Social Democrats were committed to a nuclear power programme, but were then unseated by a party who claimed to be against nuclear power, but changed their minds in office. Those who favour nuclear power argue that Sweden has very little choice in the matter. Without such a source of energy, Swedish industry will eventually collapse or be priced out of world markets.

Those who are against it, envisage a bard return to a poor, pastoral but clean Sweden. But could it stay clean. if the surrounding countries adopted nuclear power programmes? There are compromise solutions. Some believe that the solution lies in developing alternative technology, using •the power of the sun, wind and waves. Such methods might work in an ideal world, without competition from other industrialized countries, like Britain.

In Sweden, they talk about an industrial disarmament programme, like a military one. Others fear that an inevitable consequence of nuclear power would be the dismantling of those democratic structures which Sweden has laboriously established. Local councils will not want radio-active material dumped on their land; while firms handling the waste will have to provide better safeguards against industrial action than those provided by an act whose purpose was to establish workers' control.

The consequence of that act was illustrated by The Seventh Question. The Dramaten company forced it on the artistic management by outvoting them. This polemic against nuclear power made an impression even on those who did not set foot inside the theatre. The imposing facade of Dramaten, an Edwardian mixture of pomp and circumstance, was shrouded for the first night by scaffolding and brown paper, of the type used in Stockholm to protect passers-by from the fall-out from washing bricks.

Unexpectedly, the gods helped the set designer by sending a thunderstorm. Shafts of lightning threatened the metal rods. Violent gusts of wind tore the paper apart and left it flapping wildly. A mad, tattered monster on skinny legs roared drunken warnings across the sedate city.

A week later, the coalition which changed its mind fell. For the past few months, Sweden has been governed by the smallest party in their parliament. the Liberals. with the tacit acceptance of the Social Democrats. Under the Swedish system. a government does not need a positive majority, but it cannot have a negative one, a majority against it. The Social Democrats have been abstaining.

Political vacuums can be dangerous, and symbolism misleading. But the Swedes respect politicians who do not pretend to be experts on matters where there can be no certainty. The decision on nuclear power, either for or against, represents a limit to good government, for its consequences extend to the unforeseeable future, while its immediate repercussions will affect every aspect of Swedish life, to the composition of the land.

Human beings cannot take such decisions, except in fear, trembling and blind faith. Britain may ruin itself with problems which can be solved with restraint and self-discipline; but in the middle of our troubles, we should remember that the Swedes, who have travelled further along the road to utopia, have reached a place where there are no signposts, and the maps are confusing. They, not we, are facing the modern tragic dilemma.

March 1979