Words: John Baron
Campaigners are celebrating after the owner of Bramley Shopping Centre agreed to replace some of the benches it removed last June.
The A Place to Sit campaign has staged weekly friendly sit-ins over the past seven months and gathered a petition of more than 1,700 people calling for all 22 removed benches to be reinstated.
Last month Leeds City Council said the removal of the benches breached a planning application dating back six years and served centre managers LCP Group with a Breach of Condition Notice, which could have landed the company with a fine had they not complied.
Leeds City Council has confirmed eight benches which were reinstated in different parts of the centre by LCP in August will be moved back to their original locations – and a further five benches will be reinstated.
LCP had previously said the benches were an obstruction. A spokesperson for LCP today confirmed that the site will have 13 benches in situ by 15 February.
A Place to Sit campaigners had argued that the benches were needed by elderly and vulnerable people and welcomed their reinstatement. They welcomed the news and said:
“We are really pleased. This is the right decision and we’re delighted that LCP Group has reconsidered their approach. Residents will be pleased that people can visit their local shops again, socialise in their town centre, and work with the new owners on a more positive footing.”
The pressure group was formed by local residents representing a wide age range and broad political spectrum, and has held weekly sit-ins at Bramley Shopping Centre since the benches were removed, maintaining that places to sit are important. A celebratory ‘sit-in’ will be held at the centre tomorrow at 10am.
An email to councillors from a council planning officer and shared on social media today confirmed the reinstatement of the benches. It said:
“I’ve today spoken with and received an email from LCP’s Solicitor and they have confirmed that they fully intend to comply with the Breach of Condition Notice by reinstating the benches.
“The solicitor advised me that eight benches have already been re-installed in situ at the site, albeit not in the original locations as set out in the drawing. LCP will now ensure that each of these eight benches will be relocated into the correct locations as per the drawing within the timescales as set out in the Breach of Conditions Notice, by 15 February 2022.
“In relation to the remaining five benches, I am advised that they have sought and obtained urgent board approval to purchase these additional benches and are making every effort to ensure these are delivered as soon as possible, but they have been advised that there is an eight-week delivery time.
“In the meantime, they will make every effort to arrange and obtain five temporary benches to be installed on site within the locations as stated on plan 013/D within the required timescales.”
The news has been welcomed by Bramley residents on social media. Jean Hollings said: “Well done. This is truly a community that pulled together for their rights. Justice done.”
And Ali Ward added: “Absolutely brilliant. You have all done amazing to keep up with the sit ins and it just shows how powerful a community can be when it comes together. Bloody brilliant.”
The A Place To Sit group thanked Bramley’s councillors, MP Rachel Reeves and Leeds City Council for listening and taking action.
Speaking on behalf of all three Bramley ward members, Councillor Kevin Ritchie said:
“We’re delighted that through planning enforcement action, we’ve been able to secure agreement for 13 of the Bramley Shopping Centre benches to be returned and installed in their rightful places.
“Our thanks goes to the fantastic ‘Place to Sit’ campaigners, local MP Rachel Reeves and Planning Officers whose determination and hard work has spurred on the case we’ve consistently been making for the benches return.
“‘Residents just want somewhere to sit, chat to other shoppers, put down our bags for a moment or perhaps eat a sandwich purchased from one of the shops.
“We hope that London and Cambridge Properties will now engage with us constructively going forward to make the shopping centre a vibrant, successful and welcoming community asset.”