Words: John Baron
The new owners of Bramley Shopping Centre have agreed to reinstate EIGHT public benches following uproar after all its benches were removed in June.
The decision to reinstate some of the benches follows a community campaign which saw more than 1,000 sign an online petition and stage a number of peaceful sit-in protests at the centre to have all 22 benches reinstalled.
LCP, the national commercial property and investment company that manages Bramley Shopping Centre on behalf of the landlord Sheet Anchor, originally removed the benches. labelling them an “obstruction”.
A spokeswoman for LCP today confirmed their intention to reinstate eight of the benches following consultations with tenants and Leeds City Council, with four benches by Poundstretcher and four close to the taxi rank and the mother and baby and disabled parking bays near Tesco. She said:
“Tenants have also been offered the opportunity to have a licence to extend their premises and provide outdoor seating, should they wish to do so.
“As we pointed out a few weeks ago, we were carrying out detailed on-site surveys before making any decisions as to the future-proofing and upgrading of the centre.
“I’m pleased to say that following our improvements to the parking provision, we will be installing new benches and aim to have them in situ by the end of September, subject to the shortages currently being experienced across the whole construction industry being resolved.
“As managing agents, we are working hard to make Bramley Shopping Centre more appealing and are actively attracting new occupiers. We’re looking forward to announcing new names in the next few weeks.”
The announcement has met with a mixed initial response on social media. One person said:
“It’s a step in the right direction. Well done to all involved. People power.”
“I think that’s a good compromise.”
Others were less convinced. One said:
“I think it’s a start but not enough – we should push back and suggest that they put at least one on the section between Costa and the cafe, at least two on the Bramley Community Shop side, and at least one outside the chippie. And they need to publish their plans / what seats they’ll install so we don’t end up with flip-seat ones.”
“It’s a start, but I’d prefer more. Why none near the chemists? There’s plenty of space there (where the original benches were removed). None in the space between the bank, the chip shop, and the pedestrian crossing?”
Bramley & Stanningley Councillor Kevin Ritchie (Lab) said he hadn’t yet seen LCP’s proposals but said he was disappointed with their response and added:
“They have not taken on board our suggestions for reinstating the missing benches. The main uphill stretch of the centre should have some break points. We have seen during the protests how important it is to have benches there for people with mobility issues.”
Fellow councillor Caroline Gruen (Lab) added:
“I’d agree with Cllr Ritchie. It is that uphill stretch where people have held their sit-down demonstrations that really needs seats for people. I am disappointed that aspect has not been taken into account.”
Dozens of shoppers have been bringing their own seats every Saturday morning for a friendly flashmob protest at the centre.
A letter signed by councillors, businesses, schools, community groups, residents and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves had been sent to LCP calling for the benches to be reinstated. And members of the council’s Inner West Community Committee had also written to express their concerns over the impact on elderly users of the centre.
Last month, LCP also removed the 2.5 hour maximum car park stay it inherited when it acquired the centre for £10m earlier this year.
Visitors can now park free of charge for two hours and a small charge applies for up to six hours. The charges are: £1 for the third hour, £1.50 for an additional two hours and £2 for an additional four hours. These charges do not apply to tenants and their staff, residents and visitors to residents’ homes.
Thanks WLD for following this campaign. In the interests of transparency LCP Group should share / publish details of the ‘detailed’ survey they have been carrying out. This survey does not seem to have involved any consultation with their tenants, or with customers. Either way – as a detailed survey has informed the proposal to only restore only 8 of the 22 benches that were erroneously removed, it must have some radical and useful learnings in it. I’d like to know the logic and why benches can’t be reinstated across the centre, but only in two areas?
With respect, the response from LCP seems pretty mealy mouthed to me. Of course, what would have been better was for them to consult about the benches BEFORE removal, rather than after the event. As others have pointed out, the main demand for seating would seem to be on the stretch down from Poundstretcher right along to Tesco. Exactly where the protesters have been sitting, rather than at the two ends as LCP has suggested.
I can foresee any seating at the taxi rank being dominated by taxi users and long term cafe customers. That area has long been a bottleneck anyway, and if anywhere formed an ‘obstruction’ historically, it was there. That was then exacerbated by people collecting and returning trolleys and queuing for the Tesco ATM.
With regard to the parking, as far as I am aware the pre-existing 2.5 hour maximum was never very rigorously enforced. I may be wrong, but I expect that the new parking regime will be VERY rigorously enforced. I suspect that the first drivers will know that they have incurred a parking charge or penalty, is when they receive a notification through the post. Their address will have been obtained from a number plate database, linked to CCTV monitoring as vehicles enter and leave the car park. Have LCP carried out a survey of what the average car usage pattern is, and how many do actually ‘overstay’?
Meanwhile, it seems that the only way to pay on site for parking is via smartphone/internet and debit/credit card, via a third party agent in London. Once again, the landlords seem to have taken no account of what the demographic of the users of the Centre actually is.
Increased rental charges for units, allied to the parking changes and the mooting that tenants pay for any space used in front of their unit, suggests to me that the new landlords are just looking upon the Centre as a cash cow, and any considerations of community are minimal.
This seems very much like just paying lip-service to those of us who have disabilities or who have complained about this.
There’s a massive need for places to sit. Bramley is a community and people sit to consume foods purchased at the shopping centre, as well as those of us who need support when shopping (disabled, elderly, etc).
So tenants can pay more to provide seating, how generous of them!
With covid still prevalent, disabled people shouldn’t be forced into sitting close to others if they need to sit down.
I think their response makes it clear that it’s the cash they are after, with absolutely no interest in the local community.