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TV Harrison Ground: Campaigners FAIL to get site listed as Asset of Community Value – but declare “fight goes on”

Leeds City Council have dealt a blow to community campaigners hoping to restore Wortley’s TV Harrison Sports Ground back to its former glory – by declining to list the ground as an Asset of Community Value, writes Keely Bannister.

Campaigners had been hoping to get the land – which used to see former Leeds United players David Batty and Noel Whelan play on it – listed in a bid to stop it from being sold for housing.

According to the council’s website, having property or land awarded Asset of Community Value status gives communities “a fair chance to make a bid to buy the property on the open market”, with the community being granted a six-month period to do so. 

But a council report claimed the TV Harrison Community Action Group –  who have been fighting to stop 47 new council houses from being built on the Oldfield Lane site – have failed to show that the ground has a “current or recent previous use that furthers the social interests of the local community”.

The report states:

“The nominator [TV Harrison Community Action Group] advises that from 1850 the land was used as a sports playing field. Up to 2002 the ground was used by schools including the Leeds County Boys team.

“In 2002 the LSSA [Leeds Schools Sports Association] relocated the Leeds County Boys team to Morley Woodkirk High School. 

“The nominator has confirmed that since that date LSSA “abandoned” the playing fields and failed to maintain them use of the land. 

“It is clear from a site visit that there has been no use of the land for a considerable amount of time. Although part of the land appears to have recently been cut back, the condition is poor and does not show any signs of regular use for any sporting events or community related activities.”

Members and supporters of the action group have been regularly meeting at the ground to perform maintenance on the derelict pitches with a view to reinstating them.

The report goes on to say that it is realistic to think that the sports pitches could be brought back into use within five years:

“Although the land has deteriorated due to the passage of time, it still remains an area of open space which with willing ownership it is realistic to think it could be brought back into its previous use as playing fields within five years and that such a use would likely further the social interests of the local community. “

But in the next paragraph the report adds:

“Although it is considered realistic to think that the land could be brought back into an eligible use, to be added to the List of Assets of Community Value all of the criteria needs to be met and without an eligible current use or such use in the recent past the Council cannot add the property to the list.”

Explaining further what is considered to be “recent past” the report concludes:        

“On the basis of the above, whilst we consider it useful for Leeds City Council to use five years as a guide to the upper limit of the “recent past”, we do not go as far as to recommend this as an absolute cut off.

“Rather, we take the view that each case needs to be considered on its merits. In this case given the length of time is considerably more than 5 years, we do not consider this to be the recent past.”

At no point in the report is the action group’s claims that the LSSA abandoned the sports pitches commented upon.

TV Harrison Community Action Group chairperson Arron Lambert expressed his disappointment at the decision:

“We’re shocked we have been declined, but also not shocked.

“We know what the council want to do and we’ve always known we have a big fight on our hands.

“Leeds City Council are lacking a moral compass. Their agenda doesn’t involve community. 

“The council believe in their power. They have a lack of respect for heritage and people in the community.”

Mr Lambert added that the campaigners would not take the council’s decision lying down. He added

“The fight will go on! We will continue the fight to save the pitches. In fact, we will now fight harder, pull together more and be stronger as a community. 

“There are a lot of questions for the council to answer and we will be asking them those questions in the coming weeks and months.

“We are currently working on a deputation to present to full council in which we will spell out our case and tell the council why they are going wrong not listening to the people. 

“We have tried before – around February of this year when we were sponsored by [former Farnley & Wortley councillor] Matt Gibson to give a deputation, but we were knocked back. 

“The council gave their excuses at the time; something about we were too late to apply.

“Surely we can’t be told ‘no’ twice?! Or at least that is what we are thinking.”

Mr Lambert also criticised the council for a lack of communication – finding out about the decision via The Dispatch. He added:

“The council haven’t contacted us to inform us of their decision – why are we finding out this information through a third party?
“We were told that the decision would be made around the 30th of July.
“Lea Westerman [Action group secretary] is currently in contact with Cllr Ann Blackburn – who along with David Blackburn has been supporting us – to seek clarification of the council’s decision.”

Earlier this month the site was rubberstamped for future housing use as part of the council’s planning blueprint for the future.

The campaign group also argue that the land was left as a gift to the children of Leeds and that it has previously acted as a breeding ground for developing football talent before it was allowed to lay dormant for 14 years.

The group recently held a community day at the site after they spent their own time cutting the overgrown grass and weeds, and they have a petition against any housing development which has attracted over 1300 signatures.

You can read all of The Dispatch’s coverage of this issue here.

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