Words: John Baron
Cash-strapped Leeds City Council has confirmed that the much-loved West Leeds Country Park Visitor Centre in Pudsey Park WILL be axed – with the council looking for alternative uses for the building.
The council is facing a £119 million budget black hole – largely due to the Coronavirus pandemic – and launched a public consultation into the proposed cuts back in November.
Council documents show the authority plans to continue with the proposals to close the centre, but has ruled out the idea of potentially opening a cafe on the site following public feedback.
The council said ‘engagement will take place with interested parties on potentially taking over the building’.
Proposals to move the existing playground to where the glasshouse currently stands and reduce the size of the playground by two thirds will no longer happen, following a public outcry.
The proposals, expected to save the council £90,000 a year, are due to be considered by senior councillors on the decision-making executive board next week.
The public consultation attracted 2,035 responses, with 85% of respondents saying they didn’t want the centre to close. According to council documents, Pudsey residents said they did not want the playground moving and that the town did not need another cafe in that position.
Cllr Simon Seary (Cons, Pudsey) said he was ‘hugely disappointed’ at the decision by Leeds City Council to close the centre. He said:
“More than 2,000 residents took part in the consultation, in the middle of a pandemic, which itself is a remarkable number – especially as some had tried to keep the process quiet. Around 85% of residents were against the closure, so I question why Leeds City Council bothered to consult in the first place
“I am pleased that the play park will not be moved – one of the more ridiculous elements of the original proposal – and will continue to fight these plans.
“Regrettably, the Labour-run Council seem hell-bent on spending on vanity projects, rather than the needs of local residents.”
He said the decision still left the town without public toilets.
A petition opposing the changes attracted more than 2,500 names. It was set up by Pudsey resident Dawn Seary, who is also the Conservative candidate at May’s local election. She said:
“This is a brilliant engagement from the local community who resoundingly said NO. Despite running a public consultation during a pandemic (not everyone is online!) the obscure questions, removal of our signs advertising the consultation, and misinformation (£90k to run a small animal centre – £62k being for staff! – nice work if you can get it!) I managed to deliver about 1,500 letters and have over 2,000 signatures on my petition I th.
“Had the council consulted properly on a PUDSEY ASSET they would have had a greater engagement. We now need to get behind the local business who has stood up to be counted and wants to save our centre.”
Pudsey Labour candidate at May’s election, Mark Sewards, said the council’s budget had been made ‘in the wake of huge cuts handed down by the Conservative government’. In a statement, he said:
“I know this will come as a blow to the many families who have enjoyed this local treasure over the years. However, the Council have listened to us and made it clear that the building will not be demolished.
“While the Visitor Centre will no longer be run by Leeds City Council, it is encouraging that the Council are actively looking for alternative uses for the building which will benefit the local community.
“Under the difficult circumstances, this is a realistic compromise that means Pudsey will not lose this beloved local amenity and we now have an opportunity to improve it.”
The council anticipates its income from business rates to reduce by £101.8m largely as a result of COVID-19, while the Government has provided £75.5m the council still had to identify further proposals to address the £26.3m shortfall.
As a result of these budget proposals it is projected the council’s workforce will reduce by 791 full time posts in the coming year. As of 31 December last year it has already seen a reduction of 221 full time posts when compared with the same period in the previous financial year, with many leaving through voluntary redundancy.
Public consultations have been carried out or are ongoing on proposed changes to services at some residential care homes, community hub and libraries.
Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor James Lewis (Labour) said:
“We are required to make decisions at a time when COVID-19 makes future planning uncertain and this budget particularly difficult. We know that COVID-19 will continue to have an ongoing financial impact and that it will be difficult to provide the same council services without changing the way we work.
“Over the last ten years we have balanced our budget despite reductions in funding that have seen a total of £2billion of government grants taken away from funding our council services. The recent government spending review failed to provide sufficient funding for adult social care or to fully close the gap caused by pressures associated with COVID-19. We, of course, continue to lobby the government in attempts to find more funding to reduce the impact of budget pressures on services.
“We have been left with a particularly steep mountain to climb this year in terms of the savings we have had to find. We have listened to residents views about what is important to them and revisited our proposals where possible to ensure they are representative of those views.”
WLD has been following the proposed council cuts through our Cutswatch series.