West Park Centre Sale
Despite "assurances" previously given to local residents and user groups, in July 2009 the Council's ruling Conservative / Lib-Dem coalition quietly added the West Park Centre to the Council's list of future house building sites. This intention to sell the site for housing was publicly endorsed on 12 February 2010 by the Council's Executive Board. Kirkstall Labour Party has consistently opposed any such proposal and would keep this successful centre open for community use.
Labour took over from the Conservative / Lib-Dem coalition after the Council elections in May 2010. No political party had overall control, so Labour formed a minority administration which relies on the Greens and the Morley Borough Independents for support. The West Park Centre was nominally removed from the list of sites for sale, but users asked why Education Leeds were gradually withdrawing their classes from the centre, thereby creating a financial problem where none need exist. We were dismayed to learn through unofficial channels that senior Council officers are still progressing the sale in secret. We asked the Chief Officer direct questions about this, which he presently refuses to answer.
We fear that, in addition to the former school buildings, any disposal might also include a considerable area of playing fields and public open space. Note the 'red line' boundary on the school plans at the foot of this page. Sale and demolition are not yet certain: there must still be public consultation, the Council have yet to find a buyer, the developer nust still obtain planning consent, the land is subject to restrictive covenants, and we might yet persuade officers and politicians to change their minds. There is every reason for residents and users to make a fuss, and the time to do it is now.
The West Park Centre is among the busiest community centres in Leeds, and typically receives 2000 - 3000 visitors per week, in addition to the staff and tenants who work there. As well as hosting local residents' associations, it is also home to several orchestras, choirs and music groups, a Baptist church, various artists and a wide range of vulnerable adults and pupils with Special Educational Needs. The centre is often so busy during the day that it can be difficult to book a room.
On 12 February 2010 there was a meeting of the Leeds City Council Executive Board. This is the most powerful Council committee, and the controlling Lib-Dem / Tory coalition has almost all the seats. Tucked away at minute 184 are a series of reports and appendices from the Director of City Development about the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment 2009, or SHLAA for short. This is an important planning document where the Council identifies sufficient land for private housing development over the next five years. There are two huge appendices which list over 2100 building sites, city wide. Site number 2049 is the West Park Centre, Leeds 16 and it was suggested by "the Council" - in other words, by the ruling coalition.
Appendix 1a (2.4MB) has maps and a basic list of sites, appendix 1b (2.7MB) explains how the allocations were done. Cllr Barry Anderson (Conservative: Adel & Wharfedale Ward) chaired the Partnership Group and provided the political "steer". The Council's business pages now have a large section devoted to the SHLAA. Here you can download the full report (8.1MB - over 2000 pages!) and also find much better maps and indexes.
Leeds City Council
Support not queried
Brownfield site at top of Butcher Hill currently still in active use as community and council buildings; former school site. N1/N6 designations South/East, residential development North/West.
No physical constraints. Redevelopment dependent on current community functions ceasing and site clearance.
Brownfield site that meets policy criteria for residential development in principle once available. Good transport and local facilities connections, sustainable location.
No legal or ownership issues, LCC submission. Current functions considered for closure in 2010 so could be available short/medium term once this process is completed
High market area, accessible location with good facilities nearby.
On 20 February 2008 Leeds City Council published a list of more than 250 properties to be sold as quickly as possible. The sites were kept secret until after the decision had been taken. The West Park Centre is on page 5 of this document, listed as "West Park School" to be sold as soon as Northern Ballet relocate in 2010. One can hardly think of a worse time to sell.
This sale would be an act of vandalism. West Park is the largest community centre in our area, and among the most widely used public buildings in Leeds. Hundreds of young people visit the centre to take part in sport, play music or dance. The halls, changing rooms and gymnasia are ideal for community use. Opera North still uses the big hall for rehearsals despite having a £34,000,000 development elsewhere in Leeds.
Download a joint statement prepared by six of the many West Park user groups: Moor Grange Action Group, Spen Hill Residents Association, West Park Residents Association, West Park Fields Group, STEP (Supporting the Elderly People), and Kirkstall Crusaders Junior Football Club. This was submitted to the LCC North West (Inner) Area Committee on 13 November 2008.
The Area Committee also received a report from the Director of Environment and Neighbourhoods and their minutes read as follows:
Referring to Minute 26(a) of the meeting held on 25th September 2008, the Director of Environment and Neighbourhoods submitted a report on the West Park Centre.
The report informed Members regarding:-
Prior to Members discussing the content of the report, the Chair allowed a number of local residents, together with representatives from the Moor Grange Action Group, Leeds Symphony Orchestra and West Yorkshire Police to make representations in support of the retention of the West Park Centre and playing fields.
- the inclusion of the West Park Centre on the list of capital receipts
- the relocation of some existing users of the facility
Detailed discussion ensued on the content of the report and it was the consensus of those Members present that the West Park Centre should be retained for use by the local community and city wide arts organisations and to oppose any development of the West Park playing fields.
In concluding, reference was also made to the Council’s current disposal list and the Committee agreed to request the Executive Board to remove the building from the disposal list.
(a) That the contents of the report be noted.
(b) That this Committee supports the retention of the West Park Centre for use by the local community and city wide arts organisations.
(c) That this Committee opposes any development of the West Park playing fields and requests the Executive Board to remove the building from the Council’s current disposal list.
Local residents have organised an action group to preserve this building and West Park green space beyond. The Kirkstall councillors will work closely with people from both Kirkstall and Weetwood wards who are opposing the sale. Strictly speaking, the West Park Centre is just outside the Kirkstall border in Weetwood Ward, but party politics should be irrelevant when facing issues such as this. The whole of the North West Inner Area Committee is opposed to the sale. If all 12 inner area councillors consistently vote against the sale this would tilt the balance in the council and we could guarantee the centre’s future.
If you agree with us that closing the West Park Centre is one of the most stupid actions that the Council has considered for many years, please contact us and we will put you in touch with the various protest groups. Our contact details are on the Home Page.
The issue came before the full council on 28 January 2009. Local residents brought a deputation at the start of the council meeting, with essentially the same message that had previously been supported by the Inner North West Area Committee in November 2008. The matters raised by the deputation were referred to the Executive Board for consideration, in accordance with normal practice, so strictly speaking we are still awaiting the Executive Board response. Later in the same meeting, however, Cllr Illingworth moved a "white paper" resolution which read:
This council supports the continued use of the West Park Centre for youth and community work, and resolves to remove it from the list of sites for disposal.
Cllr Illingworth said the council valued the former school between £5,500,000 and £7,000,000. This includes classrooms, gymnasia and a large hall which is ideal for musical events. If the playing fields were also included the estimated price increased to £18,000,000 but he said that sport and recreation were so vital that none of the site should be sold. The motion was seconded by Cllr Judith Blake, and Cllr Atha and Cllr Yeadon both spoke in the debate. The Conservative leader, Cllr Andrew Carter, moved a self-congratulatory "wrecking amendment", which read:
Delete everything after "This Council" and insert the following: "welcomes the commitment made by the administration to retain the green space around the West Park Centre and the constructive discussions taking place with the Weetwood Ward members, to keep facilities for Youth and Community work on site at the West Park Centre. Council further notes that the West Park Centre has not been declared surplus to requirements and is therefore not being marketed."
Download the Verbatim Report of the council debate.
This amendment was carried by two votes. All three Liberal Democrats from Weetwood Ward (Councillors Bentley, Chapman and Chastney) voted for the amendment, despite their earlier contrary position in the North West Inner Area Committee. This is similar to the closure of Beckett Park School, when the Lib Dems said locally that they would support the school, but when it came to the key vote in full council they withdrew their support and voted with the Tories. The amended motion is considerably weaker than the original resolution adopted by the Area Committee, and crucially fails to protect the former school buildings (such as the gymnasia and auditorium) after Northern Ballet move out next year. The observation that the site is not currently being marketed is worthless, since there was never any intention to market these buildings before 2010.
Cllr Carter's amendment would not have succeeded without backing from the Morley Borough Independents. This party often support the current council adminstration, whoever this might be. Their original policy to declare Morley independent from Leeds seems to have been tempered by an offer from the coalition that a Morley councillor could be Lord Mayor of Leeds in 2009 - 10. The amended resolution became the substantive motion. This was agreed unanimously by the whole council, since the Labour members recognised that even partial protection for the green space element is better than no protection at all.
Subsequent inquiries revealed that the Council has no record of any "constructive discussions" with the Weetwood Ward members, so we have no idea what, if anything, was agreed. The West Park Centre remained in the official list of sites for disposal published as Appendix F in the papers for the Council Budget Meeting on 25 February 2009. You can download the original document from the council website. The sites are not in alphabetical order and the Centre is listed as West Park School on page 4. Alternatively, you could download an annotated version here, with several local assets highlighted.
The public open space at Old Farm Drive could also be at risk from council asset-strippers. This is a playground for children and young people, as well as an amenity space for numerous dog walkers. Recreational land in public ownership should remain in public use.
This page was last updated on 23 January 2011 at 21:07 GMT. Back to the top
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