Leeds City Council planning enforcement officers have written to the new owners of Bramley Shopping Centre advising them to reinstate the 22 benches they have removed at the centre.
According to the council, the controversial removal of the benches in June was unauthorised and breached a planning application dating back six years. The authority has also called on the new owners to reinstate the benches.
An e-mail from a council planning officer seen by West Leeds Dispatch says the council is advising them to reinstate the benches ‘within the next month’.
A follow-up site visit will be made by enforcement officers to check if they’ve been replaced.
Commercial property and investment company LCP acquired the centre earlier this year for £10m on behalf of Sheet Anchor Investments, one of the LCP Group of managed companies.
The removal of the benches has led to a 1,700-name petition and weekly friendly sit-down protests by the recently formed A Place to Sit campaign group, which is made up of local residents and shoppers.
A Leeds City Council spokesperson confirmed to WLD that a planning enforcement letter had been sent to the centre owners.
The move has been welcomed by Bramley & Stanningley councillor Kevin Ritchie, who had researched earlier planning applications at the centre. He told WLD:
“I’m pleased the Compliance Team at LCC agree the benches’ removal is a breach of planning, based on the last planning approval for the reconfiguration of the car park (2015/16), where the benches were clearly on the approved plans as part of the ‘existing boundary’.
“Their removal is contrary to our Accessible Leeds supplementary planning document, which recognises the importance of creating a high-quality inclusive and accessible environment and eliminating physical barriers for both disabled residents of and visitors to Leeds.
“Their removal is clearly considered ‘harmful’ so I hope LCP respond positively and reinstate the benches quickly, as instructed by LCC Planning Compliance.
“I’d like to thank the public for their continued peaceful and good-natured weekly protest, demonstrating our collective commitment to get the benches returned to benefit our community, the businesses at the Centre and ultimately the Shopping Centre owners.”
The move was also welcomed by Bramley resident Fran Graham. Speaking on behalf of A Place to Sit, she said:
“We’re pleased that Leeds City Council has recognised this breach and the serious impact it has on people, by asking LCP Group to immediately replace the benches where they were originally sited.
“The layout of benches matters as much as the number of benches, as the original scheme allowed people to stop and rest at short intervals. It makes the difference between someone with mobility problems getting out to the shops independently, as opposed to being shut at home, in a permanent lockdown, reliant on others and less able to socialise.”
Community campaigners from A Place to Sit have been urging LCP to reconsider their decision to remove all 22 benches.
LCP Group were contacted on Friday for comment on the latest developments. WLD is awaiting a response.
LCP originally removed all the benches in June, saying they were an obstruction. The company said last month a decision to reinstate eight of the benches had been taken by their board and was final. The replacement benches were being installed at the centre today.
A spokesman for LCP responded to the protests in August, saying:
“Since we took over the management of Bramley Shopping Centre earlier this year, 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. We have also taken on board comments made by members of the public.
“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.”
A Place to Sit campaigners are continuing to hold a weekly sit-in from 10am-11am every Saturday at Bramley Shopping Centre.
Follow WLD‘s ongoing coverage of this issue here.