Kirkstall Neighbourhood Forum is preparing a Kirkstall Neighbourhood Plan to give residents better control over development, and more influence over council spending. Here, KNF Secretary JOHN ILLINGWORTH – also a city councillor for Kirkstall – writes about the forum’s plans for the future…
The next full meeting of KNF will take place in the New Burley Club, in Burley Hill Drive on Wednesday, 26 July, starting at 7.30pm.
We have a significant grant application in progress for national government funds. This grant is almost certain to be awarded, and will pay for publicity designed to engage with all parts of the Kirkstall community.
It will also pay for professional advice writing the completed plan. Unfortunately we cannot back-date such expenditure, so we must wait for the grant to be confirmed before we can start on a major recruitment campaign.
We can, however, continue working on our existing projects, and there has been some significant activity on the footpaths group. We must deal with a regrettable situation which is not of our making.
When public footpaths were first registered after the Second World War, the old Leeds County Borough was omitted from the surveys. Very few paths have been identified within the County Borough boundaries.
The outer parts of Leeds have properly designated footpath networks, but most of the inner city (including Kirkstall) does not. We must correct this situation.
Kirkstall has numerous off-road footpaths, which have taken on a new importance with the latest medical advice on atmospheric pollution and physical activity. Until these paths have been properly registered they are at risk of closure by property developers or simple neglect.
We are also trying to create new footpaths and cycle tracks along the valley floor, and join together isolated fragments into coherent longer routes.
Kirkstall Valley Park and European Capital of Culture
There is a realistic possibility that we might finally create a Kirkstall Valley Park along the river valley. This has been a local ambition since the 1970’s, which has often been frustrated by external events. Since 2004 a local charity called Kirkstall Valley Park has promoted this scheme.
A unique combination of circumstances means that a new inner-city public park might now be possible. It could figure in Leeds’ bid to become “Best City” and the “European Capital of Culture”. There are huge opportunities for local residents to shape this process as it develops.
Arup are a national civil engineering company which is heavily involved in the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme. Leeds Beckett University commissioned Arup to produce a report on behalf of the Kirkstall Valley Park Board.
The costs were kindly donated by Arup as part of their public engagement. Much of the professional work was done by Amy McAbendroth, who is a landscape architect who works for Arup. It looks stunning. Amy is also a Kirkstall resident and a member of our KVP Board.
Relatively few people are aware that there is much Kirkstall riverside, which is occasionally home to Otters, and more frequently to Kingfishers and Herons. Improvements in water quality mean that demanding species like salmon and grayling are gradually re-colonising the river.
This process is being encouraged by installing fish passes on all major weirs. Substantial areas of the valley floor are grade one agricultural land (the best 1% in the entire county) with huge potential for sustainable cropping and horticultural research.
There is a proposal that the profits from local food production could provide the modest income required to sustain the new public park. If this proves financially viable, then the scheme could be administered by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, who already manage the Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve.
Tesco site design competition
The ”Tesco” site in the Kirkstall District Centre remains a derelict mess, and the few plans that we have seen for this location are unworthy of a major town-centre site.
The KNF Board would like to hold a design competition for this land, in an attempt to escape from the mediocre schemes we have seen so far. Part of the problem is that Tesco want far too much money for their land. It is steeply sloping (which increases the development costs) so it simply isn’t worth so much.
Unfortunately Tesco have no financial incentive to bring the land into use. If we had land value taxation for major commercial sites this would concentrate minds. This site would shift so fast that you could not see it for dust.
Finally, there is a huge community development opportunity for both Kirkstall Mills.
Kirkstall Valley Development Trust (KVDT) are rightly focused on Abbey Mills in the first instance, but in the longer term St Ann’s Mills (behind Morrisons) has huge potential for green energy schemes and as a visitor centre for the Nature Reserve and a new Kirkstall Valley Park.
This is also the best location for a new Armley – Kirkstall footbridge over the River Aire, which might form part of the flood alleviation scheme.
All in all, we have a lot to play for in Kirkstall, and the KNF Board look forward to seeing you at our future events.