Words: John Baron
Leeds City Council has pledged to support campaigners fighting to get removed benches reinstated at Bramley Shopping Centre.
A council report published today has responded to a deputation to all 99 Leeds councillors at a full council meeting in November, saying the removal appears to contravene an earlier planning application.
Campaigners are calling for LCP Group to reinstate benches it removed in June – but the council admits it may be difficult to get all 22 benches reinstated.
Residents in Bramley were left furious after the benches at the shopping centre were suddenly stripped away in June by its new owners, LCP.
LCP said the move was made in the best interests of shoppers and that the benches had been an “obstruction”. It has since reinstated eight benches.
But more than 1,700 people have signed a petition calling for all the seats to be restored – and six months of weekly sit down protests have so far been held at the centre.
A council report today said there may have been a breach of a previous planning application. It states:
“The council acknowledges and shares the concerns that the loss of the outdoor seating from the Bramley Shopping Centre has created.
“Since the matter was raised, the Council as Local Planning Authority, has sought to establish what controls it has over the retention of seating and has taken steps to seek the reinstatement of the benches, where a breach of control has been identified.”
The report adds that in August 2021 a letter was issued to the centre owners requesting reinstatement of benches within one month to comply with approved planning permission in 2015 for alterations to the existing car park, a new taxi rank and cycle store at the centre.
In October 2021, a further site visit was undertaken to check for compliance with the requirement to reinstate the benches. Eight benches had been re-installed.
Further e-mails were sent to the owners notifying them that a response was required within seven days before formally before formal action would be instigated to seek replacement of the benches.
The report adds: “Since then, officers have begun to prepare formal action based on the fact that a condition of the 2015 planning permission required hard and soft landscaping details, which included a layout plan showing 13 benches around the car park, to be discharged.
“Details were subsequently discharged on the proviso that the hard and soft landscaping details were constructed, maintained and retained in accordance with the details agreed. Given the removal of the benches, there is considered to be a breach of this requirement, and as such the Council proposes to serve a Breach of Condition Notice on the property owners. There is no right of appeal against the serving of such a notice.”
The report notes that the action would not secure the reinstatement of all 22 benches as requested by councillors, as some were removed from elsewhere around the centre outside the boundary of the 2015 planning application. It concludes:
“I hope that the above provides reassurance that the authority is pursuing this matter, including on a formal basis, to secure the reinstatement of the benches at the centre, where possible too do so.”
LCP have been contacted for comment.
Speaking as part of a deputation at a city council meeting of all 99 councillors in November, campaigner Jo Herbert said the impact on the community had been “nothing short of devastating”.
The deputation to council in full
Lord Mayor and members of the Council,
Hello. My name’s Jo and I’m from Bramley, LS13. I’m here representing 1,100 local residents from a campaign group called A Place to Sit, campaigning to be heard by LCP Group, the new owners of our local shopping centre in Bramley.
Bramley Shopping Centre is a medium-sized shopping centre and a designated purpose-built town centre, with about 20 shops, including a post office, coffee shops, opticians, two chemists and a Tesco.
And until June this year, it also had 22 benches.
The benches were spread out across the site in such a way that enabled people to put down bags of heavy shopping between shops, or make their way along the walkway – from the optician to Tesco, from the bus stop to the Post Office, from the escalator to Boots, at their own pace, using the benches to take breaks.
On 21 June, without consultation, the new owners removed every single last one of those 22 benches.
The impact of this on many people in the community has been nothing short of devastating. Many of us who live in Bramley walk or use public transport. Many of us are disabled, in ill-health, have mobility problems, are older, and some of us have long-COVID.
Since the benches were removed, some people simply cannot use their local shops. Like Janet’s older neighbours, who used to go the centre every day. Now, they stay at home, and rely on Janet to do their shop for them instead.
One resident said this: “My grandma went for an optician’s appointment last Saturday. She became unsteady on her feet and needed somewhere to sit. There wasn’t anywhere, so she leant on a barrier which collapsed and she went with it, damaging her hip.”
Bramley Shopping Centre is surrounded by housing and a sheltered housing complex. It is the nearest place to get your pension, your food, your prescription and to find company, to socialise with other people. Benches are places to sit and rest, and can make the difference between leading an active life – and being unable to leave home. They are also mobility, independence, health, and a really important social outlet.
Until LCP Group removed the seating, the town centre was the heart of our area. It was where our communities came together, where younger and older people mixed, and we all belonged there.
Now, unless we can pay for a seat and a Costa coffee, we don’t belong there. Older people, disabled people, parents with small children, people who live alone, breastfeeding parents, people on low incomes – don’t belong there any more.
We’re campaigning for the benches to be restored.
We’re standing up for people like Jill, aged 73, who has arthritis, and liked walking the half-mile from home to Bramley Centre. She can’t walk there now as she needed somewhere to sit before walking back home. She takes a car now, but says walking was good exercise.
LCP Group has told us this change is part of their improvements … After significant pressure, they put back eight benches. Three of them are unusuable, and unsafe.
They have not replaced any benches on the long walkway – which some residents cannot use without stopping for a rest.
Bramley residents need all 22 benches to be restored.
Leeds City Council Planning Department has advised LCP that their actions are in breach of a planning application. We hope LCC’s Planning Team will take steps to enforce this.
But this is not just about 22 benches. It’s about us. Me and you and what we believe in. It’s about Joyce who walks down from her house for an hour every day to do a bitof shopping…. and as respite from the stress of caring for her husband who has dementia. Joyce doesn’t come anymore.
It’s about reducing our reliance on cars for short journeys.
It’s about communities influencing commerce, not the other way around.
It is about our city and what we care about.
It’s about equality.
So today we say to Leeds City Council: This is unacceptable.
Show us that you are serious about Leeds being the best city to grow older in.
Show us that you are serious about supporting communities to have better wellbeing, health and mobility.
Stand up for citizens who are excluded from Leeds life because of access issues. Make improving access a top civic priority.
Stand up for a Place to Sit.
Leeds City Council’s equality policy states: “We want to live in an equal society that recognises different people’s different needs, situations and goals, and removes barriers that limit what people can do and can be.”
In the words of one campaigner: “It might be a bench to some people, but disabled and older people depend on them benches.”
Give us your full support and commitment to make sure this issue in Bramley is properly addressed as soon as possible. We need your action.
Thank you to the Bramley Ward Councillors for their dedicated work especially on this issue. Thank you for listening.
What LCP have said previously
LCP, who bought the shopping centre for £10 million last year on behalf of Sheet Anchor Investments, reinstated eight benches following the initial protests but have remained steadfast in their refusal to restore the remainder.
They argue the benches had been removed because they were causing an obstruction on the pathways and say their removal had been recommended by a qualified surveyor. They added in August: “Since we took over the management of Bramley Shopping Centre, 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. 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.”
LCP has been contacted for fresh comment on this issue.
Follow WLD‘s ongoing coverage of this issue here.