Words: John Baron
Photos: Philip McConnell
A former government minister has taken to social media to back a campaign to reinstate removed benches at Bramley Shopping Centre.
Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn (Lab) was responding to a Tweet showing Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves and two of Bramley’s councillors at the latest Saturday protest against the removal of all public benches at the centre.
Mr Benn Tweeted:
Back in June all 22 benches at the centre were removed by LCP Group, the company managing the centre on behalf of new landlord Sheet Anchor. LCP said a surveyor had found they were causing an obstruction.
Alongside Mr Benn’s comment, community campaigners from the A Place to Sit group are urging LCP to reconsider their decision – and that a proposal to reinstate eight benches needs adjusting. They say that all 22 benches should be reinstated throughout the centre, especially on the long stretch outside the pharmacies.
More than 1,100 Bramley residents are part of the A Place to Sit campaign. They say the decision impacts on older people with health or mobility issues, and disabled people of all ages, who can’t use their local shops without resting in between.
A Place to Sit representative told West Leeds Dispatch:
“We’re happy LCP is proposing to put some of the benches back, but we hope they will be community-led on this – and recognise that the proposal needs adjusting.
“We’re the community – we’re the people who make the centre profitable – and we know that this proposal won’t work, it stops some disabled and older people from using essential shops like the Pharmacies.
“LCP’s proposal does not enable people to be mobile and independent because it has not been produced by talking to people who have mobility & health issues. We’re not asking for much – just that LCP Group honours the Equalities Act 2010 and puts benches back where people need them, which is throughout the centre.
“We want to support good businesses by showing up to shop! A little kindness goes a long way, so we urge LCP Group to listen to the Bramley community on this, as some of LCP Group may be older or have mobility problems themselves, or at very least have a friend or family member who finds it difficult to walk long distances between shops.”
LCP originally removed all the benches in June, saying they were an obstruction.
Follow a recent e-mail campaign by A Place to Sit members directed at LCP, the company said the decision to reinstate eight of the benches had been taken by their board and was final.
A spokesman for LCP responded to the protests, saying:
“Since we took over the management of Bramley Shopping Centre earlier this year, we have focused our efforts on how we can improve the public realm to make it a modern and attractive community-led shopping facility.
“When we removed the benches, we said from the outset we were looking at what would best suit the needs of the centre and [our surveyor] conducted on-site surveys to see where benches would be best located to ensure health and safety needs are met.
“We have spent the past few months monitoring the situation, as well as meeting with tenants and local councillors. We have also taken on board comments made by members of the public.
“Now this phase has concluded, we have agreed the best locations for eight benches. In addition, we have given our tenants the option to extend their premises by applying for a licence for outside seating. We understand this is being considered by a small number.”
Place to Sit campaigners are holding a weekly sit-in 10am-11am every Saturday at Bramley Shopping Centre.