Pudsey: Future of former visitor centre and glasshouse yet to be decided

Closed: The former West Leeds Country Park Visitor Centre.

The future of the former West Leeds Country Park Visitors Centre and glasshouse in Pudsey Park is still to be decided by Leeds City Council – four years after the facilities closed their doors.

Both facilities shut in February 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and never re-opened after a subsequent round of Leeds City Council budget cuts permanently closing the facilities in 2021 in a bid to save the cash-strapped local authority £90,000 a year.

At least two community projects have expressed interest in taking on the buildings, including Steven Newbatt, who runs The Farsley Cake Co, and the Pudsey Community Project.

But a Leeds City Council spokesperson told WLD this week: “Unfortunately, none of the initial expressions of interest fully responded to the council’s requirements, so were not taken forward. We are currently reviewing the buildings and aim to have a plan for their future use in the coming months.”

Community organisations have been expressing an interest in taking on the glasshouse.

WLD understands the council also has concerns about their ability to legally lease out the former visitor centre due to low EPC energy ratings. As a result the council’s parks department has identified possible opportunities for these assets to be re-utilised to complement the use of the park by the public and these are currently being explored.

Council bosses invited expressions of interest for the former visitor centre in Autumn 2022, comprising animal enclosures, aviaries and aquariums, as well as associated welfare rooms, offices, a classroom and toilets. The glasshouse next door is also available.

Both projects have said they will continue to lobby the council.

Pudsey Community Project (PCP), which offers a range of services to support people in need, has launched an online petition to restart negotiations with the council after the process stalled due to the council’s city-wide review of all its assets.

PCP chief executive Richard Dimery said his organisation’s bid for the buildings had been developed further since their initial expression of interest.

“The buildings have been empty for four years now and are much-valued by the people of Pudsey,” Mr Dimery said. “Finding the right use for them is very important. We are committed to serving the community in any way we can and hope to work with others to find the most appropriate use. We will continue to do that.”

Pudsey Community Project’s proposals for the visitor centre include publicly accessible toilets; a small low-cost volunteer-run kiosk providing simple drinks and snacks for the park users; exhibition and activity space for park-based events; and to operate a six day a week youth and children’s group venue to help increase the offering for young people locally and reduce youth antisocial behaviour.

The glasshouse would be run in partnership with local schools as a horticultural classroom space for helping children engage with learning how to help things grow, and especially as a quiet space for working with children with special educational needs. Food grown there would be used locally in charity food provision.

Mr Newbatt wants to transform the visitors centre into an attraction attracting people from across the city, including a ‘travel back in time and explore’ dinosaur adventure, gift shop and community fruit and vegetable patch. It would also feature fully equipped meeting facilities, sensory area, visiting exhibits around local school curriculum and a fully restocked growhouse.

The growhouse will be minimally restocked to tie in with the overall attraction, while incorporating a snack kiosk and seating will be available for both attraction visitors and non patrons.

“I’m still hoping it will be a major milestone in bringing visitors and commercial expenditure back to Pudsey,” Mr Newbatt said. “We’ll keep fighting until the end and will be launching a petition to try get the council to listen to us on our Facebook group – Make The Visitors Centre Great Again – in the next week or so.”

Councillor Dawn Seary (Cons, Pudsey) said: “The closure of the visitors centre and glasshouse over three years ago, to save costs was in my view, a political manoeuvre rather than a genuine cost-saving measure.

“The cost of the buildings were merely absorbed elsewhere: the lights are still on, the plants are still watered and the animals and staff were retained and redeployed elsewhere in Leeds.

“While expressions of interest have been submitted, the Council has a lack of urgency in anything happening to the site, and keeps rolling out new excuses in the face of any proposals. I am thankful to the individuals who have submitted bids to reopen it and care about our park just as much as I do. I’ll keep working hard to hold this council to account so we can get something done, and keep making our community even better.”

Follow WLD‘s coverage of the centre’s closure and possible new lease of life here.

West Leeds Dispatch‘s Cutswatch series has been detailing cuts in West Leeds here.


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