Comment: Armley’s depressing meeting and are lunatics running the asylum?


Yesterday was known as Blue Monday – apparently, statistically speaking, the most depressing day of the year.

I must admit I spent most of yesterday (and the weekend) feeling a little blue myself. Not because of any statistics or anything, but because of a meeting I attended in Armley on Thursday evening.

The meeting was about the future of the now demolished Whingate primary school building site. Some residents wanted a play park on the site (most of the houses don’t have a garden and there’s no immediate play equipment locally). Others wanted housing (preferably private rather than social housing).

The meeting, attended by about 30 or so residents, came down strongly in favour of housing. You can read the full report on proceedings here.

I respect democracy and I wholeheartedly respect the views of the people who live there. They’re facing problems I don’t, and I don’t envy them. But there was something about this meeting that was worrying.


Firstly the main reason for immediate residents not wanting a park because they were worried about anti-social behaviour from bored youngsters.

Their decision wasn’t made out of a burning desire for more housing, it’s because they couldn’t face any more problems with anti-social behaviour. Some felt they’d already been through enough with vandalism of the old school building. You can understand what they’re saying. I don’t live there and it can’t be easy living with those kind of pressures.

Councillor James McKenna (Lab, Armley) also told the meeting about problems with a play park in another part of Armley that led to the play equipment being removed, such was the consternation about anti-social behaviour and vandalism from residents. The council couldn’t, he explained, police the park as it doesn’t have the resources.

I have an in-law who lives down by the jail – she has similar worries about anti-social behaviour and crime in her part of Armley. So I understand that people live in fear of it.

Besides, who would build and maintain a park the site? Given the financial hits the council’s taken from central government over the years, it isn’t going to be the local authority.

Secondly. It turned out forty minutes into the meeting that in planning terms you have to give 20 metres distance between play equipment and nearby housing anyway, so having a play park there was never really a goer in the first place. Perhaps a pocket park in the middle?

Reading between the lines, was a park – as nice as it sounds on paper – ever a realistic option? Even if you put aside the concerns over anti-social behaviour, I suspect not.

Sports pitch or facility?

Thirdly, there was an idea to have some sort of sports facility or provision there. Again, there were concerns about noise and nuisance from the youngsters.

New community centre?

Fourthly. Could a community centre be built on the site, asked one resident. Cllr Alison Lowe (Lab, Armley) – and experienced CEO at a local charity – explained that the council couldn’t afford to build a new centre and explained the lengthy and difficult process residents would have to go through to form a group and secure funding. The idea never gathered momentum.

Doctor’s surgery? Specialist sheltered housing?

The area’s reasonably well served for doctors and is specialist sheltered housing something local residents are really going to champion? Probably not.

Always going to be housing …

Given the council officers admitted there was pressure to provide more housing in the city to meet targets (and that it’s easier for the cash-strapped council to sell the site to a housing developer than any other developer) commercial pressures were always going to win through.

Maybe I live in cloud cuckoo land, but is this really what things have come to? Decisions based on fear of anti-social behaviour? I don’t know about blue Monday, but that really is depressing.

Where are the kids supposed to go? Where will they play? When I was growing up we used to go on local school playing fields and spend hours there playing football. School fields are all fenced off now for security reasons.

Remaining spaces have ‘no ball games’ signs because of fears of anti-social behaviour. We’re all frightened, you see? But doesn’t that help to contribute to the very anti-social behaviour we’re all so frightened of?

There is good youth work happening in the area. West Leeds Juniors football club were at the meeting to put their case. Just down the road the folks at Armley Juniors doing a great job with local youngsters. And I know there’s a lot more besides that, but little of this came out at the meeting.

Too often I hear the words ‘that might be difficult’ coming out of Armley.

I don’t know what the answer is myself, but as one resident put it at the meeting:

“Why should the idiots and lunatics … run the asylum?”

She raised a good point. Sadly that was the conclusion I took from this meeting. The lunatics, louts and yobs who cause the problems ARE running the asylum. Decisions are being taken based on fear of them and that isn’t healthy if we’re ever going to have stronger communities.

How can a community break the cycle of deprivation or improve itself when there aren’t opportunities to do so? How do we turn it around and tackle anti-social behaviour? How can members of a community have the confidence to be able to dream of a better future? What are the answers?

I don’t know what they are. I wish I did. But we need to have the conversation about it.

Feel free to have your say in the comments below. Armley Forum also meets at 7pm tonight (Tuesday) and will discuss the site.


  1. Completely agree with the above. I live on the street and bought a child up there. At the time there wasn’t so much ASB but I did lament the fact there was no local play space, the only area I have ever lived in which doesn’t. A lot of families don’t have the money to take their kids out places but this would be free. Why should they suffer because of a few lunatics. Most people in the area are decent people and they need to reclaim the space and a decent environment for themselves and their children.

  2. Great article raising some good questions. I agree with Jo above. Most people in the area are good people let down b a few morons.
    I couldn’t make the meeting. It’s a shame the council won’t take into account the Facebook page supporting the play area. It’s got more than 100 likes.
    now that really would be taking democracy into account …

    • Meetings, petitions and internet discussions are very badly skewed samples: none of them can be taken as democratically enacted decisions.
      If it is important to the residents what happens to the site, then perhaps they should call a proper vote.

  3. Very strange that people who take the trouble to go to a community meeting have come to this conclusion. Have people given up hope?

  4. It does not help when Leeds Licencing Committee allow too many cheap booze outlets to open in and around Armley, this must fuel the anti-social behaviour.
    We have recently failed to stop a ‘Bargain Booze’ outlet opening in our quiet neighbourhood (LS13) because anti-social behaviour is not considered by the panel when granting the licences.

  5. The Dispatch received the following email in response to this post. We’ve added it in full to the comments section as we felt it was the best place for it….

    “Hello, I wanted to add a comment to the recent Armley article but the option wasn’t possible as I didn’t receive a confirmation email after inputting my details.
    I am a local resident and found the tone of the article a little patronising to local residents. It’s not all doom and gloom living in this area but like any area in modern society anti social behaviour does need to be taken into consideration.
    I wasn’t able to attend the meeting due to other commitments but I have thought about what would be best. It’s actually really nice to see some green space nearby and I had thought allotments might be a good option.
    Firstly it would provide outside space for those of us who don’t have garden. Secondly it would improve the health of residents as they could grow their own veg. Thirdly this would save residents money. Fourthly children and adults alike could learn valuable life skills maintaining the veg patches. Also community groups could be formed to help maintain it.
    Failing the allotment idea some private modern apartments would be a good idea. This would uplift and regenerate the area and help to raise house prices within the area.
    Please forward this email onto those involved in making the decisions. Thank you for your time.
    Yours faithfully,

    • And an addition from Sarah:

      “Didn’t mean to say the article sounded patronising sorry about that. It was well written and I didn’t attend the meeting so I don’t know what was discussed. But thank you for raising awareness on this issue. Hopefully a solution that will benefit the community will come to pass.”

  6. Could someone please write to Jeremy Corbyn and ask him which part of ‘Jez We Can’ includes bulldozing primary schools and selling the land to property developers?


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