Words: John Baron
Community leaders in Bramley have demanded the return of public benches stripped from Bramley Shopping Centre by its new owners.
An urgent letter signed by businesses, schools and community groups has been sent by Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves to new shopping centre owners LCP Properties to highlight the overwhelming opposition to the removal of seating.
The move follows an outcry – first highlighted by West Leeds Dispatch – after the at least 16 benches were taken away last week, depriving shoppers and many others of the chance to rest and socialise at the centre.
Ms Reeves warned that taking away the benches could hit business because visitors are likely to spend less time at the centre – and increase the risk of social isolation as people are deprived of meeting points where they can rest and catch up with friends.
Among those signing the letter are local Bramley and Stanningley Councillors Kevin Ritchie, Julie Heselwood and Caroline Gruen, as well as Bramley Elderly Action, Fairfield Community Centre, Bramley Park Academy, local businesses 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.
In the letter, Rachel Reeves said the communal benches provided a “vital commercial, social and community space for consumers in Bramley and the surroundings areas”. She added:
“However, the absence of a place to rest is likely to exclude many of those who would otherwise use the Shopping Centre regularly.
“A significant proportion of the population in Bramley are older people, and the Bramley Elderly Action charity is based directly opposite the Centre on Waterloo Road.
“There are also several care homes and older people’s supported housing in the immediate vicinity, including Daisyfield Grange, Rossefield Manor and St Peter’s Court.
“Bramley Shopping Centre has previously provided an accessible shopping space for these older people, many of whom have mobility issues, but now that the opportunities for them to rest have been removed, concerns have been raised that they would no longer be able to shop or socialise here safely.
“Whilst some may be able to ask family or friends to shop on their behalf, a key part of these older people’s time to socialise and act independently will have been lost, potentially isolating them.
“Others may choose to shop elsewhere, reducing footfall at the centre, something I am sure we would all be keen to avoid, given the existing empty units.”
Warning of the impact the removal of the benches could have on families and on the Centre’s shops and cafes, the letter continues:
“Families with young children also regularly use the Centre, and for many of those who are unable to travel into the centre of Leeds, or to drive to the larger supermarket complexes, it has been a very convenient shopping space with a range of facilities. However, the lack of seating discourages shoppers from spending more time at the Centre, and therefore may reduce the amount that they spend.”
Rachel Reeves concludes the letter by urging the Centre’s owners to reinstate at least some of the benches, saying:
“We understand that LCP Properties is willing to return some of the public seating to the Centre. We would suggest that at least sixteen benches are reinstated, including two in the square by Halifax and Bramley Fisheries, two outside of Poundstretcher, eight along the main parade of shops, one outside of Tesco for the taxi bay, and three along the shops by the bus terminal.
“We would be very grateful if full consideration could be given to this proposal, given the strength of feeling in the community, and the clear importance of these benches to local shoppers.”
Bramley’s councillors are also seeking a meeting with LCP Properties to discuss the issue.
A spokesman for LCP said last week that the decision was taken in shoppers’ best interests and added:
“The benches were removed because they were causing an obstruction on the common area pathways.
“Any decisions made are done so with the best interests of our tenants and shoppers and we will consider if new outdoor seating arrangements can be made once we’ve had chance to assess the impact of the change.
“However, there is external seating outside Costa Coffee and retailers can request the same by applying to the landlord for its consideration.”
LCP bought Bramley Shopping Centre for £10m earlier this year.