Plans to close West Leeds Country Park Visitor Centre in Pudsey Park should be stopped and council officers should work with councillors to improve and enhance it, a meeting heard today.
Proposals for Pudsey Park include demolishing the existing visitor centre and – if there is a business case – replacing it with a modular cafe with a terrace and toilets in a bid to save £90,000.
Additional proposals include reducing the size of the popular play park by two thirds by relocating it to the area occupied by the current glass house, which would be demolished.
The proposals have met with widespread opposition, with a petition opposing the changes being signed by almost 2,500 people.
Members of Leeds City Council’s Outer West Community Committee today heard there had been more than 1,300 responses to a council consultation consultation on the proposals so far.
Cllr Mark Harrison (Cons, Pudsey) had a counter proposal. He said:
“Why can’t it be a visitor centre and a cafe? The fish tanks could be kept and the rabbit area could be a small cafe. The vast majority of costs seem to come from the greenhouse. Could we have a breakdown of costs?”
Council officers said costs included paying two animal keepers, the care of animals (including vets’ bills) and heating and lighting costs. They agreed to look at Cllr Harrison’s suggestion but said there would need to be a business case.
Cllr Simon Seary (Cons, Pudsey) labelled the consultation a ‘fake’ and said there was no money allocated in the council’s budget to run a cafe. He said:
“It is not exactly clear where you are getting the money from for the cafe. It’s like saying ‘vote for me and I’ll paint the pavements of Pudsey gold.
“We should be celebrating and promoting what we’ve got.”
Cllr Ann Blackburn (Green, Farnley & Wortley) said the idea of running a cafe there was a ‘bonkers’ idea and there was no money to do it. She said there were ‘two or three’ cafes already near the park and added:
“We should have somewhere where children can go to learn about various plants and animals. It’s an easy hit, but look at what that centre’s doing [for children]. You are taking away what makes Pudsey Park special. It would be very sad if you did that.”
The council said they would look to move animals on to places like Temple Newsam, Lotherton Hall or Tropical World or away to zoos around the country, but Cllr Blackburn questioned what savings the council would then make on vets’ bills.
“You want to get get your facts right before you start saying things in consultation because clearly WHAT YOU ARE SAYING is jumbled.”
A council officer stressed to the meeting that vets’ fees were only a small part of savings.
Cllr David Blackburn (Green, Farnley & Wortley) feared the council was closing facilities in the west of the city and moving them to the north and the east of Leeds. “That is not on and it won’t do,” he added.
Cllr Trish Smith (Cons, Pudsey) criticised the lack of consultation with ward members and said there was no real business plan or case for the closure and urged that the process should be stopped and that the council should ‘think about it properly’ and ‘realistically and truthfully’ look at what can be achieved. She added:
“It’s almost like it’s plucked out of the air without any due diligence.
“These are two small amounts of money in the grand scheme of things.”
Cllr Andrew Carter backed calls for a ‘rethink’ on the proposals and to look at the issue holistically.
The committee agreed to pass a resolution that council officers should stop the process and work with ward members to preserve and enhance the visitor centre and not effectively close it. Cllr Peter Carlill, (Lab, Calverley & Farsley) abstained, saying he wanted to await the outcome of the public consultation into the issue.
Have your say on the proposals online via https://surveys.leeds.gov.uk/s/FXQFS6/. The consultation closes on 14 December.
The West Leeds Country Park Visitor Centre, in Pudsey Park, is free to enter for the public and is a registered zoo. It keeps captive, native British species including birds, mammals and fish, and describes the different natural habitats of west Leeds and how they benefit wildlife.
Next to the visitor centre there is a display house containing a range of temperate and tropical plant species that visitors can explore.
The buildings have been closed to the public since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced in March 2020.
Leeds City Council is attempting to plug an anticipated £118.8m financial shortfall – caused partly by pressures from Covid-19 and reduced funding from Government over a number of years. More than 800 full time jobs could be lost.
The Outer West Community Committee meeting – which also discusses the future of Leeds bowling greens – can be watched in full here:
West Leeds Dispatch is tracking the proposed cuts in our WLD Cutswatch series. Read all the Cutswatch articles here.
Here’s our map of the proposed cuts and building sales we’re aware of in West Leeds: