Councillors’ about-turn marks end of line for campaign to save Hyde Park sports site from developers

Campaigners, with local councillor HPOL's Neil Walshaw centre

Campaigners, with local councillor HPOL’s Neil Walshaw centre

The long-running row over whether developers should be allowed to build on former sports facilities in the Hyde Park area of Leeds is finally over.

Despite having rejected them as recently as December, councillors today approved plans by developers Chartford Homes and Holbeck Land to build 24 homes and a shop on the site of former playing fields, swimming pool and sports hall of the old Leeds Girls High School on Victoria Rd.

The plans have been been vigorously contested by local residents and campaign groups, with support from local councillors. They’ve been fighting to retain the site for use by schools and people in the area – a deprived area that is low on public recreation space and high on obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease.

An aerial view of the site - Victoria Rd runs along the top

An aerial view of the site – Victoria Rd runs along the top

So why did they change their minds?

Two reasons: first, they heard advice today on the issue from a QC.  And while we don’t know what the advice was (they discussed it in private after the press and public were excluded), it won’t have been to encourage them to stick to their guns and reject the application.

Secondly, planning officers made it clear to the councillors on the Leeds City Council planning panel today that the developers’ patience had run out: they’d waited a year for the council to make a final decision on the application and if none were forthcoming today they would go to appeal.

Which left the councillors in a fix: reject it and face an appeal, stall and face an appeal.

An appeal which the developers would almost certainly have won – probably at considerable cost to the cash-strapped council.

As Labour Cllr John Hardy told the meeting: “If we were to turn this down, we would probably lose.”

“What we want is to have that green space,” he added. “What we can do is different from what we want to do. And that’s the problem I’ve got. With a heavy, heavy heart, I want green spaces, but I don’t want to cost them and us a lot of money when it goes to appeal and we lose that.”

Glimmer of light

Royal Park school: controversial demolition making way for new park?

Royal Park school: controversial demolition making way for new park?

In the end, the objectors’ arguments to save the field and buildings, and their representations to national sports and health bodies, didn’t stack up … in terms of the way the planning system works.

Some glimmer of light, though, for local residents wanting to secure more recreational space in the area.

It was revealed by local councillors at the meeting today that council leaders have promised not to build on a site 500 metres away, where the council is currently finishing the controversial demolition of the much loved, old Royal Park Primary school.

There’s apparently money available to turn the demolition site and adjacent council-owned land into a new park (“public open space”), which will be designed, it is said, with input from local people.

As recently as January this year, public pronouncements were saying that the site would be grassed over temporarily “until a deliverable primarily public sector, affordable housing or community use is brought forward”.

Maybe a new park is what they’ve always had in mind as “community use”.

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Showdown expected in long-running planning row over Hyde Park sports facilities

An aerial view of the site - Victoria Rd runs along the top

An aerial view of the site – Victoria Rd runs along the top

The long-running row over developers’ plans to build homes on former sports facilities in the Hyde Park area of Leeds is set for a showdown on Thursday – a showdown between councillors and council planning officers.

Back in December there was delight among campaigners when councillors on one of Leeds City Council’s planning panels voted to refuse plans to build 24 houses and a shop on land off Victoria Rd which used to be part of the sports facilities of Leeds Girls High School.

Council planning officers were instructed to go away and flesh out arguments that would justify the refusal.

Cue massive relief for campaigners who have been fighting to retain the site for use by local schools and local people as part of what they call the “Hyde Park Olympic legacy”.

Except that …

The council’s planning officers have now come back and said they’ve taken advice from a QC and are sticking to their long-standing position – that they can’t find sufficient justification in planning terms for the councillors’ rejection.

So, they’re asking the councillors to have a look at the QC’s advice and rethink their decision.

What happens if the councillors stick to their guns isn’t immediately clear (to me at least). But they’ll be one step closer to going to a planning appeal – an appeal that the council’s planning officers say they could well lose.

And that could end up costing the cash-strapped council dear.

Community hearts vs planning heads

Campaigners, with local councillor HPOL's Neil Walshaw centre

Campaigners, with local councillor HPOL’s Neil Walshaw centre

It was clear that when they rejected the application back in December, councillors were voting as much (or more) with their “community” hearts as their planning heads. They did come up with some suggested reasons for refusal that the planning officers could look into, but only after they’d voted.

The officers have now looked at those suggestions and found them wanting.

They’re not convinced, for example, that the campaigners’ claim that the local community made “regular and prolonged use” of the site in the past would stand up as a justification for refusal on appeal.

And they’ve had a further look, at the councillors’ behest, at whether the plans comply with national and local planning and development policies and the provisions of last year’s Health and Social Care Act. And they still believe that they do.

Royal Park offer

Royal Park - being demolished amid controversy

Royal Park – being demolished amid controversy

In a curious linked development, the report suggests that councillors ask the council’s director of City Development to bring forward proposals for a new area of public open space on a site 500m away, where the much-loved, former Royal Park School is currently being demolished after another long-running campaign failed to save it.

Up till now the plan has been for the Royal Park site to be temporarily grassed over until an affordable housing or community use is found for it. Whether the idea now is to turn it into permanent public open space isn’t clear from the report.

But Royal Park is a different site, and it’s difficult to see what bearing it could have in terms of the planning process on the decision to refuse or approve the application off Victoria Rd that’s being taken on Thursday.

So, it remains to be seen whether the councillors - who have been arguing that the facilities are sorely needed for exercise by a local population that suffers from high rates of obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease – will back down once they’ve seen the QC’s advice.

Or risk a potentially costly appeal.


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European Capital of Culture 2023? Not for us, says Manchester culture czarina

Manchester Town Hall

A building in Manchester

European Capital of Culture in 2023? We may be gearing up to apply in Leeds, but it’s not for Manchester apparently.

An opposition motion going before a meeting of the city’s council tomorrow calls on chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein to draft a report on how Manchester could put together a winning bid.

But, according to a report in today’s Manchester Evening News, the motion is going to be voted down by the ruling Labour Party.

“Labour have been looking into the idea and now claim it would not be worth Manchester’s while bidding for the title,” says the report.

The council’s culture chief Cllr Rosa Battle said it cost Liverpool £2m to bid for the title and around £120m to promote and plan in the build-up to the event, the paper says.

“Such a process is more suitable for lower-profile cities such as Hull, she said, which is Capital of Culture in 2017,” it adds.

“We see Manchester as the UK’s cultural capital anyway and therefore we want to invest in culture year after year,” Battle is quoted as saying.

“We think we are on the right track already – it’s great but it’s more appropriate for smaller cities to bid for to kickstart their cultural regeneration, when we are already at the top of the tier.”

(It appears from the report that either culture czarina Battle or the Manchester Evening News – or both – are a bit confused about the difference between the European Capital of Culture and the UK City of Culture)

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Lecturers’ union adds its voice to Leeds Met name change protest

leedsmetMore bad news for the leadership of Leeds Metropolitan University as it presses on with changing the name of the institution.

Members of the students’ union voted overwhelmingly last month against changing the name from Leeds Met to Leeds Beckett.

Now lecturers have added their voice of protest.

Nearly 93% of members of the University and College Union (UCU) who participated in an online poll last week backed a motion saying: “This branch has no confidence in the decision to change the name of Leeds Metropolitan University to Leeds Beckett University”.

Turn-out was high, with 67% of the approximately 650 members of the union at the university joining in.

It’s unthinkable that the university’s governing body will change its mind at this late stage. The £250k process of implementation – all the branding, signage and changes to Leeds Met’s (and its partners’) online and offline publications – will be well advanced by now.

The name change was approved by the Privy Council in November and is due to come into effect at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year.

Following the student vote, University vice-chancellor Professor Susan Price confirmed that the name change would be going ahead on 22nd September, according to a report in The Independent.

It will be going ahead, but with no indication that it has the support of either staff or students.

It’s a weird one, this leadership thing, isn’t it?

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The Leeds-Manchester-Sheffield arena wars – who’s winning?

leeds-arena-16-web-668x341Over on BBC Radio Sheffield yesterday morning at breakfast time they were playing the Leeds-Sheffield arena game.

It was six months to the day since the Leeds arena had officially opened. So a good day to ask the question that’s been being asked in Sheffield for years: had the Leeds arena harmed the Sheffield one as everybody feared it was going to?, the presenter asked.

Reassurance was promptly at hand.

“There are plenty of acts to go round and they (the two arenas) can work together very well,” a reporter from Radio Leeds contributing to the programme said.

"There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn't"

“There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t”

Which got me thinking … Was he just being nice? Are there really enough acts to go round? And is each of the arenas getting enough of the good ones to keep them cheerful? And solvent?

So I had a look at which acts are appearing this year at each of our region’s three competing arenas – Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.

And here’s what I found.

First, the EXCLUSIVE ACTS that each of the three have either hosted since February or are going to host by the end of 2014.


Let it be noted: not just one gig, but FIVE NIGHTS of the Bublémeister, two of Beyoncé, and one of Lady Gaga.

A Lady Gaga stage

A Lady Gaga stage

Why the Manchester Phones 4U Arena gets these massive names and Leeds and Sheffield don’t isn’t clear.

Is it about the arena’s capacity and/or layout? Do Beyonce and Lady Gaga demand a stage of a certain size and type to strut their stuff on?

Or maybe they aren’t coming to Leeds this time around because it wasn’t established on the circuit when the bookings were made?

Who knows? Time will tell.

Still, Leeds has got some exclusives too. Not as many, but some.


After a pretty storming start last year – Springsteen, Rod the Mod, Elton John, Stereophonics, Field Commander Cohen, Sports Personality of the Year – there are four acts booked for the Leeds first direct arena during the rest of this year that aren’t going to either Sheffield or Manchester.

Three of them are admittedly pretty big ‘old-school’ names, though none have sold out yet (unless you believe Clapton sold out when he left The Yardbirds).


The four exclusive events at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena are in a different league: the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, a higher education convention, motocross, and ice hockey.

Going everywhere: lovely Ant and Dec

Going everywhere: lovely Ant and Dec


What about the other acts that are doing the rounds this year?

Well, a lot of them are going to all three arenas: Ant and Dec, McBusted, Miranda Hart, Gary Barlow, X-Factor Live, Dancing on Ice Live, (endless nights of) Lee Evans, John Bishop, Premier League darts, Diversity …

Then there are the acts who are appearing in two of the three.

Which sadly means more bad news for Sheffield:


Add the 15 acts above to the one-stop wonders listed earlier … and that’s a lot of big names that are driving up or down the M1 without stopping off at the Motorpoint.

That’s not to say that Sheffield aren’t getting some decent acts. Here are the ones that are bypassing Leeds and going to both Manchester and Sheffield.

(“Kylie’s coming! And she’s not going to Leeds!” crowed the BBC Radio Sheffield breakfast presenter yesterday.)


So, what are Leeds and Sheffield both getting that Manchester isn’t? Something stellar?

Erm … Disney on Ice and WWE Wrestling.

How else can we measure how this battle of the Arenas is going?

There’s takings (but we’re not likely to hear about them).

And there’s bookings.

They’ll all be adding more, of course, but here’s how many events have currently been announced (more may have already been booked) from today through to the end of the year (288 days) in each of the three arenas.

Enough acts to go round? I’m not convinced.


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Further delay at stalled investment fund after councils rethink tender for expert help

lcrfundFurther delay at the investment fund set up by councils in the region to overcome “market failure” in the banking system and help kickstart the region’s economy.

The Leeds City Region “Revolving Investment Fund (RIF)” was expected to be providing its first loans for stalled commercial projects, particularly in housing and construction, by the end of last year.

But then in February it was announced that, with no funding applications approved yet, the councils had put out a tender for £120,000 worth of outside expertise from the banking sector to help promote and develop the fund.

Now, two weeks after the one-year “investment adviser” contract was supposed to start, it’s been announced that the tender offer has been withdrawn.

“After considering the longer term positioning of the RIF and the advisory requirements to support it, it was agreed the requirements for the Investment Advisor role need to be reconsidered and further detailed development undertaken,” says a report issued by Leeds City Council, which manages the fund on behalf of the other 10 councils in the city region.

“It was therefore decided the current procurement should be withdrawn.”

A report announcing the tender in February said that without the expert external input, “there are risks that the development of the RIF may be frustrated”.

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#LEEDS1914 Leeds appeal after losing 3-1 to Clapton in the dark

The Leeds City team of 1913-14

The Leeds City team of 1913-14

(Leeds, early March 1914)

Controversy at Clapton Orient on 2nd March where Leeds City, standing fourth in Division Two,  go down 3-1.

The Orient officials had booked a 4.30pm start for the Monday match in order to get as large a gate as possible, (reported the Leeds Weekly Citizen), but, with no floodlights that meant the game was going to end in darkness.

Twenty minutes into the second half Leeds are winning 1-0. Then Scottish international Jimmy Speirs wrenches his knee and has to be carried off.

spierscigs“This proved to be an opening for the Orient men, who, with only ten men to face, set up a determined effort to win the match.

“Had the light held out there is little doubt that they would not have succeeded; as it was the game had only twelve minutes to run when a free-kick close in  by Hind, one of the Orient full-backs, drove the ball past Scott into the net.

spierscigs2There is little doubt that Scott did not see the ball owing to the darkness, which had now made the whole match quite a farce; but this was not the worst, for a moment later Evans, the other full-back, was seen making an individual movement, and he succeeded in driving the ball into the net; while a moment later, from another free kick close in, Hind sent in another shot which was again unseen.”

Furious Leeds manager Herbert Chapman appealed to the Football League Management Committee. Orient were fined 25 guineas, but the result stood.

Passchendaele 1917

Passchendaele 1917

Speirs’ knee injury plagued him for the rest of the season, and Leeds narrowly missed promotion, ending the season in fourth spot behind Notts County, Bradford Park Avenue and Woolwich Arsenal.

Killed at Passchendaele

Three weeks after playing his last match – league football was suspended at the end of the 1914-15 season – Glaswegian Speirs went home and enlisted with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.

He didn’t have to. As a married man with two young children, he would have been exempt from the call-up.

Posted overseas in May 1916, Speirs was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery at the Battle of Arras. He was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele in August 2017, at the age of 31, and is buried in a cemetery in Ypres.

There’s more about Jimmy Speirs’ time at Bradford City – for whom he scored the winning goal in the 1911 cup final – on this site.


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