Words: John Baron
Councillors in Inner West Leeds have backed calls to restore benches which have been removed from Bramley Shopping Centre.
The centre’s new owners removed all the seating at the centre last month, claiming it was causing an obstruction on the pathways.
The move has been met with widespread concern, with more than 800 people joining the Place to Sit Facebook group and over 650 people signing an online petition. Dozens of people have attended four Saturday morning sit ins at the centre, brining their own chairs to socialise and make their point.
At this evening’s Inner West Community Committee meeting at Leeds Civic Hall, councillors from Armley, Bramley & Stanningley and Kirkstall wards unanimously backed calls to restore the benches.
They agreed to write to LCP, the national commercial property and investment company that manages Bramley Shopping Centre on behalf of landlord Sheet Anchor, to call for the benches to be restored as soon as possible.
Councillors had a letter read to them from Fran Graham, from the Place To Sit group, who said LCP’s decision is affecting vulnerable people in Bramley. She said:
“Removing the benches means that people who walk to the centre have nowhere to stop and rest.
“Local older people who need to rest between shops cannot do so. People who can’t carry shopping while waiting for a taxi have nowhere to rest and people with health conditions and mobility problems have been excluded from shopping independently.
“People with pushchairs and children have nowhere to rest, breastfeed, or let children sit to eat unless they pay to use the Costa Coffee shop, and staff working in the shops have nowhere to take breaks outside.
“We believe it has reduced footfall to the centre, and is an obstruction to local people’s health, wellbeing and happiness.
“The group is attending the centre every Saturday 10-11am to show our support for the Bramley ward councillors’ proposal to reinstate 16 benches as soon as possible, and to encourage the owners to review their decision.
“Will the community committee support our call for LCP Group to review their decision to remove benches, to respond to the Ward Councillors’ proposal, and reinstate at least 16 benches as soon as possible?”
Ms Graham’s calls were echoed in a representation by Philip McConnell, from the Bramley Care Bears community group, who said the removal of the benches had left residents ‘shocked, amazed and dumbfounded’ and ‘at a loss’ as to how the seats were considered an obstruction.
Councillor Caroline Gruen (Lab, Bramley & Stanningley) moved a motion that the committee should write to LCP to voice its concerns and call for the benches to be reinstated. She added:
“This has caused a seismic public outcry – we have been inundated by complaints.”
Cllr Gruen said she was disappointed that during discussions between Bramley’s councillors and LCP there had been talk of a counter proposal, which she labelled ‘adversarial’.
Meeting chair Cllr Hannah Bithell (Lab, Kirkstall) added: “I cannot really fathom why the benches have gone at all.”
All councillors present unanimously voted for the committee to write to LCP.
The move follows a letter signed by community leaders, Bramley councillors and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, which was sent to LCP last month.
Organisers signing the original letter included Bramley Elderly Action, Fairfield Community Centre, Bramley Park Academy, local businesses such as Bramley Baths and the managers of nearby accommodation for the elderly and vulnerable. Other signatories to the letter include the Chief Executives of Carers Leeds and Leeds Older People’s Forum, as well as the charity Pyramid of Arts, and the Bramley Village Health and Wellbeing Centre.
A spokesman for LCP, the national commercial property and investment company that manages Bramley Shopping Centre on behalf of the landlord Sheet Anchor, said last month that consultation with local councillors and centre tenants regarding seating and other improvements at the centre is ongoing.
They said the seats had been removed due to congestion on the centre footpaths.
Follow WLD‘s ongoing coverage of this issue here.
I stand… errr I sit with you for the important cause.
Why do I detect a whiff of sarcasm in the comment about this ‘important cause’? Yes – it is important. Important to the hundreds and hundreds who have signed the petition, lobbied their MP and Councillors and written to the Centre owners. It’s clearly important to the dozens and dozens of people who turn up and protest every Saturday morning, bringing their own chairs come rain or shine. Most of all it’s important to the thousands and thousands of visitors to Bramley Shopping Centre who now have nowhere to rest, including a significant proportion of elderly and disabled for whom a sit down and chat whilst out and about might be their only social interaction of the week. Very important to all of those people even if it isn’t important to selfish keyboard warriors.