Wild West: ‘Well, it wouldn’t happen in North Leeds!’

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“It wouldn’t happen in North Leeds, you know!”

WLDP_wild-west-logo-finalIf I had a penny for every time I’d heard that over the years I’d be a very rich man indeed.

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.

 

 

 

 

4 COMMENTS

  1. So a consultation was made and responses were negligible; those that did respond suggested the work was a good idea? It seems grossly unfair to then suggest that the Council has done something wrong.

    It seems that consultation was carried out appropriately, but you’re picking holes now you have an answer you don’t like – I’m afraid that’s democracy in action. What would have been better? Not to ask the question at all and let the Council act? Keep asking the question until you get the answer you want and stop the Council from acting?

    Not every decision is popular. Not every resident cares. Not every consultation is perfect. Your article is a perfect example of how intra-city bickering gives the Northern Powerhouse a tough ask from the outset. Concentrate on what you can do for Leeds, rather than on what Leeds hasn’t done for you.

    • Thanks for your comment, Joan. You make some interesting points.
      The point I’m trying to make is that it’s not about getting the answer that those local residents want (or council bashing), far from it. It’s about getting an answer with a good level of response, and having a community that’s resilient enough and cares enough to take part.
      How can we achieve that, Joan?
      You say: ‘Concentrate on what you can do for Leeds, rather than on what Leeds hasn’t done for you.’ Absolutely agree! I want people to get involved!!

      • Thank you. I think you have to accept that local residents sometimes (or often) don’t necessarily want an answer but they might settle for being able to complain about their situation! Inferring that West Leeds gets a rawer deal than North or vice versa isn’t helpful and I’m sure that other areas could make similar claims.

        Does every area have to give a response? Transiency might naturally suggest less engagement but that doesn’t mean less consultation is needed – perhaps some areas simply have more investment in their local communities than others? Perhaps some areas have experienced more local development imposed on them than others, which weakens their interest in involvement.

        I would imagine there’s no simple answer but perpetuating the perception that Leeds isn’t united (regardless of whether that’s true) won’t help.

  2. At last! Great to see an article like this!

    I don’t know where Joan lives but I bet it’s not Armley! It’s all very well banging on about ‘strategic thinking’ and ‘Northern Powerhouses’ (seriously, does anyone REALLY know what that means?) but if you were to live in the inner city and see your community rudderless, ‘fragile’ and without a voice you might have a different view.

    This isn’t about paving stones or north versus west or whatever. It’s about a community having the strength to represent itself. Joan says: ‘perhaps some areas simply have more investment in their local communities than others?’ but what makes that kind of disparity happen? Is it down to poverty? Ethnicity?

    It can’t just be a shrug o the shoulders and a glib answer like ‘well, it happens – some communities don’t engage’. We can’t afford to give up on communities and hole swathes of our city as easily as that.

    Let’s get some fight and pride back into our community. Viva la revolution, I say!

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This comment was edited to remove some profanity.

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