‘Stand up for a place to sit down’: Bramley bench campaigners tell council

1
1261
Bramley Shopping Centre campaigners outside Leeds Civic Hall today

Words: David Spereall, local democracy reporter, and

John Baron, WLD Editor

Campaigners have urged Leeds City Council to “stand up for a place to sit down”, in a row over the removal of town centre seating.

Residents in Bramley were left furious after 22 benches at the local shopping centre were suddenly stripped away in June by its new owners, LCP.

LCP said the move was made in the best interests of shoppers and that the benches had been an “obstruction”.

But more than 1,700 people have signed a petition calling for all the seats to be restored – and 20 weekly sit down protests have been held at the centre, with campaigners

Bramley Shopping Centre protests
Protesters bring their own seats to Bramley Shopping Centre every Saturday morning.

Presenting the petition at a city council meeting of all 99 councillors today, Jo Herbert said the impact on the community had been “nothing short of devastating”. She told councillors:

“Many of those who walk and use public transport in Bramley are disabled, in ill health or have mobility issues, are older or who have long Covid.

“Since the benches were removed some people cannot use their local shops.

“The town centre was the heart of the area, where our communities came together, where older and younger people mixed. We all belonged there. 

“Now, unless you can afford a coffee and go and sit in Costa, no-one belongs there.”

Jo Herbert and Colette Milligan deliver the deputation to all 99 Leeds councillors.

Ms Herbert said that eight of the benches had been reinstated following “significant pressure”, but claimed three of them were unusable and unsafe.

Ms Herbert told the meeting that the council had told LCP their actions were in breach of planning rules.She added that the current situation was “unacceptable” and that shoppers needed all 22 benches back in place. She told the council: 

“Show us you’re serious about Leeds being the best city to grow old in.

“Stand up for citizens who are excluded from Leeds life because of access issue

“Stand up for a place to sit down.”

The A Place to Sit deputation received a standing ovation from councillors.

Every Saturday for almost five months, the group’s members have protested by taking their own seats to the centre while calling for all the benches to be reinstated.

As revealed by WLD in September, Leeds City Council has asked the owners to reinstate the benches, saying their removal contravenes a planning application dating back six years.

Reaction to the deputation

Jo Herbert, who delivered the deputation, said:

“Speaking in front of a full council meeting was a little daunting but the standing ovation we received proved what an important point we were making.

“LCP Group needs to comply with existing planning permission and reinstate 22 benches. I hope the spotlight this has shone on the campaign forces them to act. Bring Back Our Benches!”

She was joined by campaigner Colette Milligan, who said:

“The people of Bramley have been fantastic in standing together on this issue, but today, in Chambers, it really felt like we’d been heard.”

Bramley councillors’ reaction

Campaigners Jo Herbert and Colette Milligan (centre) with councillors Gruen, Heselwood and Ritchie at Leeds Civic Hall.

Bramley’s three local councillors, Kevin Ritchie, Caroline Gruen and Jools Heselwood, have been supportive of campaigners’ efforts to get all the seats restored. Cllr Gruen told WLD:

“The deputation was received extremely positively with a standing ovation. All 99 councillors across the political parties unanimously supported the A Place to Sit campaign.

“Many of the councillors already knew about the campaign through the strong and consistent publicity over the last 20 weeks.

“The deputation was delivered with clarity and confidence and it was very encouraging to see Bramley so ably represented by residents in the Council Chamber.”

Speaking on behalf of all three Bramley Councillors, Councillor Kevin Ritchie (Labour Bramley and Stanningley), added in a press statement:

“The ‘Place to Sit’ group are just good Bramley folk, who provide the custom and the footfall which keeps the centre in profit and this simple request from its customers is simply falling on deaf ears by the shopping Centre bosses.

“‘Residents have contacted us upset that messages they have been sent have been ignored and that many members of the group have been blocked on social media. They have also taken issue with the Centre claiming the seating was a safety hazard and would like to draw attention to a planning condition from 2018 when the car park was extended that stated the original number of benches needed to remain in place.

“My colleagues Councillors Heselwood and Gruen and I had an excellent relationship with the previous owners and manager, working very successfully together in the interest of our community. We just cannot understand this refusal to listen to the very people they rely on for their business.

“We all simply want somewhere to sit, chat to other shoppers, put down our bags for a moment or perhaps eat a sandwich purchased from one of the shops. Is that really such a difficult ask?”

Protests

Since the removal of the benches, local community group ‘A Place to Sit’ which now has 1,100 members on Facebook, have gathered in the shopping centre, weekly on Saturday mornings between 10am and 11am bringing their own chairs and benches to sit where the benches used to be, in friendly protest to ask for seating to be re-instated.

Bramley resident Roger Cliff joined others to make his point about seating at Bramley Shopping Centre on Saturday. Photo: Simon Cullingworth

The protests have included performances by live musicians and entertainers, and many members of ‘A Place to Sit’ have written poems, jingles and songs to get their message over.

The Saturday protest is now in week 20 and has been supported by the councillors and West Leeds MP Rachel Reeves, who is also a tenant of the centre.

Read the deputation speech in full

Lord Mayor and members of the Council,

Hello. My name’s Jo and I’m from Bramley, LS13. I’m here representing 1,100 local residents from a campaign group called A Place to Sit, campaigning to be heard by LCP Group, the new owners of our local shopping centre in Bramley.

Bramley Shopping Centre is a medium sized shopping centre and a designated purpose-built town centre, with about 20 shops, including a Post Office, coffee shops, opticians, two chemists and a Tesco. 

And until June this year, it also had 22 benches.

The benches were spread out across the site in such a way that enabled people to put down bags of heavy shopping between shops, or make their way along the walkway – from the optician to Tesco, from the bus stop to the Post Office, from the escalator to Boots, at their own pace, using the benches to take breaks.

On 21 June, without consultation, the new owners removed every single last one of those 22 benches.

The impact of this on many people in the community has been nothing short of devastating. Many of us who live in Bramley walk or use public transport. Many of us are disabled, in ill-health, have mobility problems, are older, and some of us have long-COVID.

Since the benches were removed, some people simply cannot use their local shops. Like Janet’s older neighbours, who used to go the centre every day. Now, they stay at home, and rely on Janet to do their shop for them instead.

One resident said this “My grandma went for an optician’s appointment last Saturday. She became unsteady on her feet and needed somewhere to sit. There wasn’t anywhere so she leant on a barrier which collapsed and she went with it damaging her hip.”!”

Bramley Shopping Centre is surrounded by housing and a sheltered housing complex. It is the nearest place to get your pension, your food, your prescription and to find company, to socialise with other people. Benches are places to sit and rest, and can make the difference between leading an active life – and being unable to leave home. They are also mobility, independence, health, and a really important social outlet.  

Until LCP Group removed the seating, the town centre was the heart of our area. It was where our communities came together, where younger and older people mixed, and we all belonged there. Now, unless we can pay for a seat and a Costa coffee, we don’t belong there. Older people, disabled people, parents with small children, people who live alone, breastfeeding parents, people on low incomes – don’t belong there any more.

We’re campaigning for the benches to be restored.

We’re standing up for people like Jill, aged 73 who has arthritis, and liked walking the half mile from home to Bramley Centre. She can’t walk there now as she needed somewhere to sit before walking back home. She takes a car now, but says walking was good exercise. 

LCP Group has told us this change is part of their improvements. 

Last month, after significant pressure, they put back eight benches.

Three of them are unusuable, and unsafe.

They have not replaced any benches on the long walkway – which some residents cannot use without stopping for a rest.

Bramley residents need all 22 benches to be restored. 

Leeds City Council Planning Department has advised LCP that their actions are in breach of a planning application. We hope LCC’s Planning Team will take steps to enforce this.

But this is not just about 22 benches. It’s about us. Me and you and what we believe in. It’s about Joyce who walks down from her house for an hour every day to do a bit of shopping…. and as respite from the stress of caring for her husband who has dementia. Joyce can’t come anymore.

  • It’s about reducing our reliance on cars for short journeys 
  • It’s about communities influencing commerce, not the other way around.
  • It is about our city and what we care about.
  • It’s about equality.

So today we say to Leeds City Council: This is unacceptable.

Show us that you are serious about Leeds being the best city to grow older in.

Show us that you are serious about supporting communities to have better wellbeing, health and mobility. 

Stand up for citizens who are excluded from Leeds life because of access issues. Make improving access a top civic priority.

Stand up for a Place to Sit.

Leeds City Council’s equality policy states, “We want to live in an equal society that recognises different people’s different needs, situations and goals, and removes barriers that limit what people can do and can be.”

In the words of one campaigner, “It might be a bench to some people but disabled and older people depend on them benches.”

Give us your full support and commitment to make sure this issue in Bramley is properly addressed as soon as possible. We need your action.

Thank you to the Bramley Ward Councillors for their dedicated work especially on this issue. Thank you for listening. 


Follow WLD‘s ongoing coverage of this issue here.


1 COMMENT

  1. Was this today (Wednesday)? Any response from LCP, or is it too early yet?

    Having said that, they’ve had 5 months to provide a proper response. Have they at any point met with any of the campaigners/councillors/MPs?

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.