Armley election candidates talk Town Street, transport and crime at community led hustings

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Candidates and chair Pete Zanzottera ahead of the hustings. Photo: John Baron

By John Baron

The future of Armley Town Street, transport, housing and other local issues were debated at a lively Armley ward hustings event.

The hustings, put together by volunteers, saw four of the six parties standing for election as a councillor at the upcoming 2 May local elections in attendance at Denison Hall, along with around 50 Armley residents.

Armley resident Pete Zanzottera chaired the hustings, and in attendance were Labour Party candidate Richard Banks, Green Party candidate Lou Cunningham and Dan Walker for the Liberal Democrats. Sean McDonald stood in for the Yorkshire Party’s Armley candidate Rachel Martins, who was unable to attend.

Candidates faced questions about what community groups they’re involved in, before resident Shazad Mahmood asked about the future of retail in Armley Town Street area and historic plans for a new supermarket at Carr Crofts.

Labour’s Richard Banks said plans for a supermarket at Carr Crofts were withdrawn a number of years ago. “We need to do something about Armley Town Street and improve it considerably,” he added.

Yorkshire Party’s Sean McDonald called for ‘a lot of regeneration and investment’ and more consultation over plans to regenerate the area. Liberal Democrat Dan Walker backed calls for investment and Green Party’s Lou Cunningham said there needed to be better communication between private landlords, shop owners and shoppers about what kind of shops were needed on Town Street.

She said she was working with Armley Action Team to run events like a spring market and events in the new pocket park and was keen to see some empty shops used for creative pop up events and activities.

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Venue: Denison Hall, on Armley Town Street. Photo: Mat Dale

Local resident Michaela asked about the saturation of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in Armley.

Cunningham (Green) spoked about the need for more family housing in Armley and said she would support local residents to object to planning applications for new HMOs. She said it was important to ensure standards of council properties were high. Walker (Lib Dem) said HMOs caused problems with neighbours and ‘take away’ sense of community due to the transient nature of occupants.

McDonald (Yorkshire) spoke generally about the chronic shortage of housing while Banks championed Labour’s selective licensing scheme for landlords which could be rolled out in Armley – he also said there was a need for more council housing, praising the number built in Leeds despite a lack of finding from central government. Some residents expressed concerns over landlords passing the licensing costs onto cash-strapped tenants.

A question from a 12-year-old Dixons Unity Academy student touched on drug use, harassment and anti-social behaviour.

McDonald (Yorkshire) accused police of ‘taking their eye off the ball’ and made a call for more ‘bobbies on the beat’, which needed to be addressed at Mayoral level, and called for more preventative educational programmes surrounding drugs. He said police resources were mismanaged. Walker (Lib Dem) said the issue ‘came down to resources’ and would lobby to increase the police budget.

Cunningham (Green) is a drug and alcohol nurse and said part of the answer was to engage more people in treatment. She encouraged more people to report anti-social behaviour and crime and hailed the importance of the local police officers. Banks (Lab) accused the Tories of making cuts to 21,000 police officer jobs: “That is why we have no bobbies on the beat.” He hailed Labour Mayor Tracy Brabin’s efforts to boost numbers, which he says have resulted in 900 more police in West Yorkshire.

On transport, all candidates spoke about the need for more buses and better public transport. All supported bus re-regulation.

McDonald (Yorkshire) called for an extended travel pass across Yorkshire, incorporating bus and rail. Banks (Lab) criticised the Tories’ deregulation of buses back in 1986 and heralded plans for a mass transit system between Leeds and Bradford which he claimed could cut through Armley along Armley Road and Stanningley Road. He said plans to improve traffic and pedestrian realm on Town Street would go to consultation in June and said it was important businesses and shoppers should have their say.

Cunningham (Green) called for ‘common sense’ solutions and said major highways plans needed to have more people around the table to ensure ‘joined up thinking’ over different modes of transport. She cited the length of time the number 16 bus can take to travel along half a mile of Town Street as an issue and said improvements to encourage walking and cycling the currently ‘dangerous’ two miles into the city centre needed to be considered. She said traders’ and shoppers’ voices ‘should be at the forefront’ of any scheme for Town Street. Walker (Lib Dem) also backed calls for a mass transit system.

Candidates also faced questions about the need for a low traffic neighbourhood in the Victoria Parks but no-one seemed to know exactly what was happening with the scheme, and there were also questions about improvements to housing stock.

Warwick Bettney from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Conservative Adam Westwood could not attend the hustings.

A full video of the proceedings will be circulated in due course by organisers and published by WLD.

WLD will be publishing candidate profiles of Armley ward’s candidates this week ahead of the 2 May election.

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