Last Summer, our councillors sponsored a DPPO (Designated Public Places Order) intended to ban anti-social drinking in public in parts of Little London and on Hanover and Woodhouse Squares. The DPPO was opposed by North Hyde Park Neighbourhood Association, South Headingley Community Association and Friends of Woodhouse Moor, on the grounds that street drinkers displaced from the areas to be covered by the DPPO, would move to Woodhouse Moor. On the 2nd July last year, the three community associations went as a deputation to a meeting of the full council and asked for Woodhouse Moor to be included in the DPPO. The next day, at an INWAC meeting, Councillor Sue Bentley (Lib Dem, Weetwood) said that “this vociferous group of people” must not be allowed to prevent the residents who live around Hanover Square from enjoying the protection of a DPPO. She added that Woodhouse Moor is big enough to absorb the problem of street drinkers, echoing the view of the police at that time.
Then on the 25th September 2008, at another INWAC meeting, when I pointed out that it would be inappropriate for St George’s Crypt to move to the former St Michael’s College building since it was located on the other side of the road from a former council housing estate where there are families with young children, Councillor Jamie Matthews (Lib Dem, Headingley) called me a Nimby.
When we don’t agree with what they’re trying to do, our councillors apply labels to us. By labelling us, they think they don’t have to deal with the logic of our arguments. Our councillors don’t want residents who think and understand the issues, they want sheep who will follow them blindly.
Woodhouse is a fantastic place, possibly the most historic and interesting place in the city. Not many people know this, but all of the area now covered by what we now know as Hyde Park and Woodhouse ward, was originally known as Woodhouse. It included all of the university precinct, Little London, Hyde Park, North Hyde Park, Little Woodhouse, and Woodhouse. You can see that Woodhouse Moor got its name because it was centrally placed within Woodhouse. We no longer know all of the original boundary of Woodhouse, but we do know that part of its boundary with Headingley ran along Cliff Lane in what we now call North Hyde Park.
Neil Hudson, the author of the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Yorkshire Diary column has published a short history of Woodhouse entitled “Never a dull moment . . “ It’s a fascinating story in which Woodhouse Moor consistently plays a major part – just as it does today.
The above photograph shows Temperance Hall, also known as Woodhouse Mechanics Institute. The local Temperance Movement was one of the groups that in the early 1850s pressed for Leeds Town Council to purchase Woodhouse Moor.
At the last INWAC meeting on the 2nd April, the chair, Councillor Monaghan (Lib Dem, Headingley) promised to arrange a meeting between councillors and representatives of the three local community groups. The meeting was supposed to have taken place at 2pm this afternoon at Wrangthorn Church Hall. Unfortunately it never took place. Two days ago, Councillor Monaghan cancelled it on the grounds that it had been arranged to discuss the result of the consultation, and that since those results had been delayed, there was no point holding the meeting. But the purpose of the meeting had never been to discuss the results of a flawed consultation. The meeting was to discuss the concerns of local residents and had been offered solely as a result of the protests made by local residents at the last INWAC meeting.
The community associations who’d been invited made clear to Councillor Monagahn that they did not accept the reason he’d given for cancelling the meeting, and said that they would be attending as originally planned, and expected to see him and his colleagues at Wrangthorn. But when they got to Wrangthorn, the hall was locked. The councillors and council officers they’d been hoping to meet, never turned up.
Instead of deciding unilaterally to cancel the meeting, how much more democratic it would have been had Councillor Monaghan explained his point of view, and asked if the community groups still wished to proceed with the meeting. If residents’ views on such a relatively minor issue as a meeting don’t matter to our councillors, it helps to explain why they’re hell-bent on proceeding to the bitter end with a consultation exercise in which only 25% of us have received survey forms.
In January 2007, a deal was signed between Leeds City Council and Leeds University whereby in exchange for receiving £255,697, Leeds City Council agreed to construct two mini soccer pitches and a MUGA (multi use games area) on Woodhouse Moor. The person who engineered this deal was Robert Sladdin, Director of Estates at Leeds University. In addition to getting Leeds City Council to agree to build sports facilities on the Moor, as part of the deal Mr Sladdin got planning permission from the council to build on the former Grammar School Protected Playing Pitch.
Fresh from this triumph, on the 28th February 2008, Mr Sladdin gave a presentation of his University of Leeds Strategic Development Framework to a Leeds City Council planning committee. During the presentation, he revealed that he wants the university to take over the roundabout in front of the Parkinson Building. It seems that the roundabout is owned by Leeds City Council who have not been maintaining it, with the consequence that Leeds University has been obliged to carry out that task. Mr Sladdin said he wants to tarmac over the roundabout so that the area can be used as a dropping off point for coaches, taxis and private cars. He said that this would relieve the current congestion in the area.
For most of my lifetime the roundabout was well-maintained and laid out as a large flowerbed. From Spring to Autumn, it was a riot of colour. I used to admire it every day when I passed it. Ever since the university took it upon itself to maintain the roundabout, it’s been grassed over. The grass has many bare patches because so many people walk across it.
The Parkinson Building is probably the most impressive building in the city after the Town Hall. It was built using money given to the university by businessman and former student Frank Parkinson (1887-1946) That the people in charge of Leeds University should now want to convert the area in front of it into a vehicle dropping off point, raises questions about their fitness to be in charge of such an important part of their own and the city’s architectural heritage.
The likely outcome is that Leeds City Council will hand over yet more of our green space so that the university can tarmac it over. And you can bet that the council will grant planning permission for the project. How could they object ? This guardian of our heritage has itself been using the area in front of the Town Hall as a car park for the past 70 years.
And if Robert Sladdin feels obliged to maintain the roundabout because Leeds City Council won’t do it, I’m surprised he doesn’t feel a similar obligation to maintain Woodhouse Moor, given that it too is immediately adjacent to the university.
There was an article in today’s Yorkshire Evening Post about INWAC agreeing to give £20,000 to a £1million project to add hanging baskets and pocket parks to Woodhouse. The article doesn’t make clear if the £1million has definitely been allocated, or if it’s just an amount that’s aspired to. If it has been allocated, the money is probably section 106 money. Section 106 money is the legal bribe paid to the council by developers when it grants them planning permission to do things like knocking down Perseverance Mills so a student tower block could be built on the site, allowing building on school playing fields in the area, allowing a student development on Shay Street, and giving Leeds University planning permission to build on the former Grammar School Protected Playing Pitch. The article also states that Councillor Kabeer Hussain (Lib Dem, Hyde Park and Woodhouse) has agreed to give £10,000 from money that councillors are allowed to allocate towards projects in their ward.
Do our councillors not realise that hanging baskets do not make up for the loss of playing fields and historic buildings ? And do they really expect us to believe that the same people who were so enthusiastic about the proposal to build a pay and display car park three years ago on Woodhouse Moor, have suddenly turned over a new, green leaf ?
On the 2nd September 2008, at a meeting of Leeds City Council’s Executive Board, in connection with the anti social behaviour taking place on Woodhouse Moor, Councillor Keith Wakefield, the leader of the Labour group, asked Councillor John Procter, who has charge of the Leisure Department, if the council has sufficient resources to enforce the byelaws. Councillor Procter’s response was, “ No, we don’t have the people, and haven’t for the last 50 years to enforce the byelaws. That’s the sad reality”.
But then, on the 10th September 2008, it was revealed in a Yorkshire Evening Post article that Councillor Procter’s department spends £119,000 each year providing security at a single leisure centre in east Leeds. The article said that most of the money goes on providing car park security. Councillor Procter was quoted as saying “The guards protect people’s vehicles to try to persuade them to use the facilities”.
Earlier today I visited that leisure centre. There were six cars parked in the car park and no sign of any security guards. The absence of any kind of security presence reminded me of the barbeque consultation and Leeds City Council’s willingness to hand over our council tax to private companies in exchange for empty promises.
The fact that Leeds City Council can waste so much money on car park security shows once again that it considers car parks, tarmac and cars to be more important than parks.
Earlier today, Hilary Benn MP went on a tour of Woodhouse Moor where he saw first hand evidence of the many years of neglect including cracked and missing areas of York stone paving, the unusable tennis courts, and badly rutted paths. He was accompanied by representatives from local community groups who explained to him that :
1. Leeds City Council say there’s no money to maintain the park, and yet :
Three years ago, they made £170,341 of Parks Renaissance Fund money available for a pay and display car park to be built on the park, money which was spent elsewhere when local people rejected the car park proposal.
They’ve now made £20,000 available for their scheme to sink 40 concrete blocks into the Moor to create barbeque areas, money which they say can’t be spent to repair the park’s existing facilities.
2. The council spends a quarter per hectare on its parks what other major English cities spend on their parks.
3. The council does not produce individual park budgets, so it’s impossible to compare the amount spent on Woodhouse Moor, the city’s most intensively used park, with the amounts spent on other parks.
When Mr Benn was told about the council’s plan to sink 40 concrete blocks into the park to create barbeque areas, he described it as “Bonkers”.
In the photograph above, Mr Benn is shown talking to Amit Roy, whose father is unable to use the park because of the state of the paths. Pictured from left to right in the photo are Sue Buckle from South Headingley Community Association, Martin Staniforth from North Hyde Park Neighbourhood Association, Hilary Benn MP, and Amit Roy from Hyde Park Unity Day.
Barbeques are illegal in all the city’s parks. So if a designated barbeque area gets built on Woodhouse Moor, it will be the only place in Leeds where people can have a barbeque in a park without fear of being prosecuted. The inevitable consequence will be that the Woodhouse Moor Designated Barbeque Area will attract people from all over the city and beyond, just as the skatepark already attracts people from a very wide area. This will mean that our roads will become even more congested, and parking for residents will become ever more difficult. What consideration have Parks and Countryside given to this ? As much as you can see with your eyes shut.
If the designated barbeque area ever gets built, it’s going to need a name. The current favourites (which nobody will admit to having suggested) are “The Penny Ewens Designated Barbeque Area” and “The Jamie Matthews Designated Barbeque Area”. We rejected the idea of having a total ban on having a name on the ground that it would be far too costly and difficult to police.
Ten thousand survey forms will be delivered to every household within 800 metres of the park, so that everyone can have a say on which name they prefer. The forms will be delivered by a private company because their quote was so much cheaper than the Royal Mail. We chose “There’s One Born Every Minute Leaflet Distribution” because they have a website which says “We Won’t Let You Down”.
If you vote for “The Penny Ewens Designated Barbeque Area” please give a very good reason in the box provided. Otherwise your vote will be disregarded. Your vote will also be disregarded if you fail to provide an NUS membership number.
The deadline for the return of the survey forms is the 23rd April to be determined.
According to Greek myth, the goddess Athena was born fully grown. In modern times we’re much too sophisticated to believe that such a thing could have happened. But apparently we’d be wrong. For our councillors are now telling us that the proposal to build designated barbeque areas on Woodhouse Moor just appeared, and had nothing whatsoever to do with them. Just how likely is this ? For a clue, let’s go back to July 2008 and examine the timetable of events :
At an INWAC meeting on the 3rd July 2008 Councillor Hamilton and Councillor Matthews both spoke in favour of barbeques, with Councillor Hamilton saying that he had changed his mind about barbeques and now favoured barbeque areas on the Moor.
On the 2nd September 2008, the council’s Executive Board gave its approval to a proposed change in the wording of the city’s parks byelaws. Whereas previously the byelaws had said it was an offence to light a fire anywhere outside a “designated camping area”, they were now to say it would be an offence to light a fire anywhere outside a “designated barbeque area”.
On the 17th December 2008, central government gave its approval to Leeds’ proposed change to the wording of the byelaws.
Then in early March 2009, laminated A3 colour posters appeared on a large number of trees on Woodhouse Moor asking “Do you want to barbeque on Woodhouse Moor?” and advertising drop-in sessions to be held at the Student Union Building and the Bowls Pavilion.
So, how likely is it that our councillors had nothing to do with this proposal ? You don’t need the wisdom of Athena to come up with the answer.