“It wouldn’t happen in North Leeds, you know!”
The latest incident to spark this caustic comparison between ‘west’ and ‘north’ Leeds has been rumbling away on social media for the past few weeks.
A stretch of York flag stones along Whingate in Armley is being dug up and replaced by the council as they’re apparently in a poor condition. The kerbs are being replaced by concrete and the flags by a bituminous surface. The council says it will be easier and safer to walk on, which sounds fair enough.
Apparently there was a consultation with 24 local households by the council’s highways department, of which 19 did not respond. Three were favourable towards the planned works and two against.
The local consternation revolves around the loss of York stone paving in the protected Armley Conservation Area. The slabs are a historic feature of the area and the council aces accusations of destroying that local heritage. As one Facebook wag put it:
“… the good [slabs] will be [lifted and] used in ‘conservation’ areas in Leeds. I haven’t as yet asked if that’s within Armley or somewhere else.”
Another resident added:
“It would be typical for Armley to become the donor for another needy area – Alwoodley, for instance.”
Fair point? Maybe so. That said, I know people in North Leeds who look at what they say is an under-investment in their community and its facilities and point to the inner west – and particularly the south – and complain about a lack of investment: “Ah, but they get all the money in Armley and Beeston” some say.
Yep, heard that one quite often as well.
The other point involves consultation. Or more the lack of suitable consultation.
Apparently the area is heavily populated with people for whom English isn’t the first language. So was the consultation an even playing field if some people couldn’t maybe understand it? Do you need to consult differently in a place like Armley compared to Alwoodley? I’d argue that you do. It’s not an even playing field otherwise.
Add into the mix that Armley has a much more transient population than, say, Alwoodley (sorry Alwoodley – I’m not picking on you, honest!) and that playing field potentially becomes even more unbalanced.
So is this perhaps an issue of who shouts the loudest gets the most? Does it come down to which community is the least fragile? You can bet your bottom dollar there would bean uproar leading to World War Three if ‘Stone-gate’ had happened in Alwoodley, or Adel, or Bramhope et al.
If that’s the case Armley didn’t stand much of a chance in this instance, did it?
I guess this is a question of what makes a strong and vibrant and vocal community? An article I recently read on the renaissance of strong inner cities communities in the US really stood out for me. It read:
“Nothing has been worse for the environmental, economic and social resilience of our cities than the decay and disinvestment of our inner-city neighborhoods and accompanying suburban sprawl.”
The author goes on to argue: “Common to their success is a spirit of inclusion, empowerment, and community engagement. Change happens faster and better when residents – who know and care the most about what’s happening on their blocks – shape their own revitalization.”
Perhaps it’s that kind of genuine empowerment that’s lacking in some inner city communities in Leeds?
For instance, meetings to shape the future of beleaguered Armley Town Street are absolutely fine, but if they’re in the afternoon, what’s the point if most people are at work? Communities can shape future development in their area by putting together what are called neighbourhood plans. Where’s Armley’s? You may be surprised to know Kirkstall is just applying for one. I only know because I stumbled by accident on some details, tucked away on the council’s website.
Whether it does or doesn’t happen in other parts of the city isn’t really the point. We need to figure out as a community how to start shouting together to stop it happening in West Leeds.
Anyone any ideas?
This is our first Wild West post. The Wild West will be a regular opinion and comment column written weekly by John Baron and others. Views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Leeds Dispatch.