“It is interesting to compare and contrast the current council “consultation” on Woodhouse Moor with a previous council “consultation” in Kirkstall in 2006 on the future of the Kirkstall Mills. Both operations apparently had the same purpose, which was to solicit public support for something that the council’s officers had already decided to do. Neither exercise followed the clearly defined rules for a local planning consultation, which to my mind is the obvious model to adopt. The barbecue “consultation” uses different techniques (to the Kirkstall consultation) to achieve a similar gerrymandered result. Once again there is no effective check on the ballot papers and some of the information circulated by the council is misleading or wrong. In contrast to Kirkstall, which had a very tight closing date, the barbecue version seems an indeterminate exercise. Cynics might consider that the distribution has been delayed to avoid the university vacations and increase the likelihood of the desired outcome. An undemocratic choice of question has been used to prematurely close down the debate.
“It is good to see the flame of democracy burning bright ! Leeds City Council should give lessons to Robert Mugabe or Kim Jong-il. I cannot see the justification for perverse consultation techniques, when there is a perfectly good model available which has stood the test of time. A traditional planning consultation under the “Compact for Leeds” would last for 12 weeks, and would be open to anybody who submitted a written response which included their name and address. There would be no artificial boundaries and the consultation would be open to anybody with sufficient motivation to write. All the responses would come from named individuals and be available for others to read. This is less about drumming up votes and more about reasoned discussion and public debate”.
(published by kind permission of John Illingworth)
Local residents left last night’s INWAC meeting outraged at the way debate on the barbeque proposal was stifled. People had gone to the meeting to hear councillors respond to the community’s assertion that barbeque areas are a bad idea. But only three members of the community were allowed to speak. One of those prevented from speaking was Sue Buckle, chair of South Headingley Community Association. Several of her members live very close to the Moor and are badly affected by barbeque smoke drifting into their homes. By not allowing Sue to speak on their behalf, her members were effectively denied a hearing. When Councillor Atha proposed a motion that the consultation be abandoned and that the existing ban on barbeques be enforced, the Lib Dem councillors vetoed his motion.
Our councillors remind me of the proverb of the Three Monkeys. They won’t hear anyone speak against barbeques areas, they refuse to see the negative aspects of barbeque areas, and they try to avoid expressing an opinion on barbeque areas.
The above photograph of the Three Monkeys is published courtesy of Antrix.
Local residents came to Wrangthorn Church Hall this afternoon to protest against Leeds City Council’s plan to establish barbeque areas on the Moor. The plan involves sinking forty concrete slabs to a depth of 60cm on the most attractive part of the Moor in the hope that barbeque-ers will use the slabs to barbeque on instead of burning the grass. Council officers have costed the scheme at £20,000. On a hot day there can be 5,000 people on the Moor and hundreds of barbeques. Officers were unable to suggest where the excess over forty should conduct their barbeques. Leeds City Council seem to have forgotten that they distributed concrete slabs in this very area three years ago but barbeque-ers used the slabs to provide a stable base for wine glasses and bottles instead of for barbeques! They said the closing date for getting forms back to them by is the 23rd April. Many residents pointed out that their own streets had had no survey forms delivered. One of the council officers said if people haven’t had a form, they should email him and he’ll send them one. The question was then put to him “What about the people who should had a form but don’t know they should have had a form?” He seemed unable to provide a response to that question.
It was great that so many of you came out to the bowls pavilion on Thursday afternoon to express an opinion on the council’s barbeque proposal. It was wild and windy but that didn’t put you off. Even Lib Dem Councillor Penny Ewens was there for part of the time. Councillor Ewens you should know, is a champion of a supposed right to barbeque on Woodhouse Moor. It’s great to know that in a ward where the bins regularly don’t get emptied, where rats roam freely feeding on discarded takeaways, and where illegal and dangerous parking is tolerated, that Councillor Ewens is prepared to use our council tax and council resources in her mission to establish barbeque areas on Woodhouse Moor.
Even Sparky the dog came along to have his say about barbeques. Sparky doesn’t like barbeques because when people leave them lying around, his owner won’t allow him on the park. Caring dog owners avoid the park when it’s covered with discarded disposable barbeque grilles as they can cause serious injury. One of Sparky’s doggy friends had to have stitches in his lip when he tried to eat the meat that had been left on one of the razor sharp barbeque grilles. Sparky lives on the other side of the road from the park. It’s a real shame that he and other dogs can’t use their local park because of Leeds City Council’s craven attitude towards the people who are making such a mess of the place. One thing I’m willing to bet, Sparky won’t be voting for Councillor Ewens when she stands for re-election. And neither will his owner.
There was a beautiful rainbow over Little Woodhouse this morning. I wonder if it means there’ll be no more student tower blocks built here (a senior Leeds City Council planning officer has described these edifices as the architectural equivalent of McDonalds). If so, the timing is perfect, since an application was recently submitted (application 08/06992/OT) for another one. It’s to be 7 storeys high and situated on Westfield Road. Leeds City Council has an obligation to establish balanced communities, and yet in recent years has given approval for the construction of several such tower blocks in and on the borders of Little Woodhouse. The most recent to be given approval was Chris Ure’s application to build on the former RSPCA site. When the planning committee met to decide the application, a Conservative councillor from Rawdon said “If we must have students, we might as well have them all in one place” ! It’s worrying that the future of our area is being decided by such a prejudiced outsider.
Our councillors are proposing two very large barbeque areas. These will be covered with concrete slabs in the hope that people will rest their barbeques on them. It wasn’t made clear what will happen if people don’t use the slabs or if they barbeque outside the designated areas. They don’t know yet how much all of this will cost if it’s implemented.
10,000 survey forms are to be issued to all households within 800 metres of the park’s perimeter. Included with the survey forms will be prepaid return envelopes. The councillors who’ve made the arrangements for the consultation process are Councillor Penny Ewens (Lib Dem, Hyde Park and Woodhouse), and Councillor Jamie Matthews (Lib Dem, Headingley). At the meeting, there was a display illustrating what’s being proposed, and two Parks and Countryside officers were present to answer questions. Also present was a Students’ Union representative who explained why he believes people should be allowed to barbeque in the park.
While the consultation was going on, a bonfire was blazing on the Moor. Even though fires are currently illegal on the Moor, the people who instigated this one were able to enjoy their blaze with impunity. Given that no action is ever taken against such people, one wonders what the current consultation exercise is all about. Do they think that by making barbeques legal, the problem will go away ? If so, it reveals that for our councillors, the problem is not barbeques – it’s local residents complaining about them, and our council’s failure to uphold the law in our local park. To see photos of the bonfire and its aftermath, and read about it, please go to Woodhouse Moor Online.
I met Chris Dickinson at this afternoon’s consultation event that was held at Wrangthorn Church. Chris is our new local Area Management Officer in charge of the team which provides support to the twelve local councillors who together form INWAC (Inner North West Area Committee). Chris is a native of Maine, who has managed to retain his charming accent, despite having lived in the UK for quite a number of years. He’s very keen to work with residents and councillors to make this a better place for everyone, and with all of his American energy and enthusiasm, I really believe he could succeed.
This afternoon’s event was well attended and there were plenty of people there from council departments and the police to answer questions. There was also a very interesting and attractive display of the Little Woodhouse Neighbourhood Design Statement. This will eventually be published by the council as a Supplementary Planning Guide which then ought to be used to inform planning officers and councillors when deciding whether to approve planning applications.
There’s to be a consultation event on Monday the 16th March between 2.30pm and 6.30pm at Wrangthorn Church, Hyde Park Corner. The council says it’s a chance for us to “influence local decision making by setting local priorities.” Forever the optimist, I’ll be going along to tell them what needs doing since they don’t seem to know, in the hope that maybe they’ll listen and actually do something. If nothing else it’ll be a chance to meet our local councillors (yes, it seems they are still alive), and put questions to them and our community police officers. Will I see you there ?
In response to the clamour of protests from local residents about last year’s mayhem on Woodhouse Moor, when trees and benches were burnt in bonfires, as both the police and Leeds City Council failed to enforce the no-barbeque byelaw, the council has responded – not by taking steps to enforce the byelaw, but by first getting the byelaws changed to make barbeque areas possible in principle, and now by proposing barbeque areas on Woodhouse Moor. There’s to be consultation, but apparently, it’s not aimed at local residents. There are to be two consultation events :
Friday 20th March, 5pm – 7pm at Leeds University Student Union Meeting Room 2 (upstairs in the ARC).
Thursday 26th March, 3pm – 7pm in the Bowls Pavilion, Woodhouse Moor. For a map showing the location of the bowling greens, please click on the words highlighted in green above.
Clearly the views of local residents don’t matter to our councillors, and neither does the waste of public resources given that between the 1st May and the 10th June 2008, the fire brigade was called out to Woodhouse Moor 29 times to extinguish fires (at a total cost of around £66,000 given an average call-out cost of £2,289). This contrasts with just three call-outs to Roundhay Park in the same period.
On the 17th December 2008, central government bureaucrats gave their approval to Leeds City Councils’ application to change the city’s byelaws to allow unauthorised parking and barbeque areas in the city’s parks. Local residents had asked the Department for Communities and Local Government to reject the proposals on the grounds that Leeds City Council had failed to consult. But instead, the department chose to accept Leeds City Council’s assurance that consultation had taken place. I have since learnt that Leeds City Council consulted just six bodies : The National Council for Metal Detecting, South Leeds Aero Modelling Society, British Model Flying Association, The Leeds Society for Deaf and Blind People, Access Committee for Leeds, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
No response was received from any of these organisations. This is hardly surprising since whilst the proposed changes will have a big impact on local residents, they will have no effect whatsoever on the people represented by these organisations.