Category Archives: Leeds Council

Council warned over casino plans.

Rank's Grosvenor division already has 35 casinos but hopes to extend this by adding a large casino in Leeds aswell as the 24 outlets owned by debt-laden rival Gala Coral. Photo:©knowyourleeds

As expectation grows that Leeds will be the only major city to grant a large casino licence after a series of council meetings, Citizen’s Advice Bureau and the NHS has warned the council about putting economical gain above resident’s welfare.

Leeds City Council said casinos will bring a “major boost to the leisure, visitor and night-time economies” after the licensing policy was passed through the Executive Board and Scrutiny process.

Large casinos are defined as having a minimum area of 1,000 square meters and up to 150 slot machines with a maximum jackpot of £4,000.

CAB’s response to the licensing consultation said “problem gambling” is highest where casinos are generally built in areas of high deprivation and unemployed with severe money problems.

They highlighted that 16-24 year-olds and people with serious health problems are most at risk. Referring to this government report in 2010, they said: “0.9% of the population in Britain can be defined as problem gamblers, suggesting that in Leeds there may be around 7,000 people who are already problem gamblers.

“If the development of a large casino in Leeds results in an increase in problem gambling of only 0.1% that would mean an additional 800 people becoming problem gamblers with the likely corresponding money problems described above.”

A spokesman for LCC working on the project said in a “post recession environment” casinos could prove a key catalyst in stimulating economic growth.

“Early economic impact assessments estimated that a large casino in Leeds could generate up to 620 new jobs and potential capital expenditure of £25million,” said the spokesperson in a written response to questions knowyourleeds had to send in writing.

“We don’t wish to speculate as to how many applications it may receive, other than to state that, as Leeds is the only core city with powers to grant a licence, it’s anticipating interest from the casino industry.”

Rank Group PLC unsuccessfully challenged the councils right not to award a casino licence if they receive more than more than one application which falls short of their set criteria. Rank – who confirmed today that they’re in talks about taking over Gala Coral –  run 37 casinos across the UK (included 2 casinos in Belgium), generating £238.6m in revenue, under the Grosvenor brand.

Nationwide ‘large casinos’ was given the go-ahead in 2007 in controversial decision by the then Labour government.

The council receives £15,000 a year in fees from the five casino licences in operation across the city. Large licences are worth £10,000 a year for each awarded.

NHS Leeds said the policy doesn’t acknowledge potential negative impacts which a large casino could have. In their response to the consultation, they said:

“People living in areas of deprivation are disproportionately affected by higher levels of income deprivation, employment deprivation, higher rates of ill-health and disability, lower rates of education, skills and training, lack of social housing, high levels of crime and poor living environments.

“Individuals living in areas of deprivation are at much greater risk of negative impacts associated with gambling. Low income is one of the most consistent factors associated with problem gambling worldwide.”

When asked how much the council has spent on the application process, they were unable to provide figures due to “commercially sensitivity”.

“Moneys spent as part of  the process are expected to be significantly outweighed by the financial contributions which may be received,” LCC said.

You can see the responses in the post-consultation report below.

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Councillors hear out plans for incinerator.

In a packed planning meeting, only a handful of councillors directly queired the 25 year incinerator contract. Photo:©knowyourleeds

At the Plans Panel East meeting earlier today, the general message was clear to Veolia.

Under light interrogation, the executives who delivered Veolia’s hour long pre-application planning presentation was told that councillors needed more clarity about the dynamics of the site and the impact of the 75ft chimney to the surrounding area.

“I asked a simple question and they haven’t been able to answer it,” said Coun Michael Lyons (Lab, Temple Newsam). He was adamant throughout the meeting that someone should answer his question.

He wanted someone to explain how the outsourcing of burning household waste on a 25 year contract worth £550m would be cheaper than using a nearby incinerator site run by Biffa.

The site will be 3.3 hectares and 300 metres from the nearest house. Photo:©knowyourleeds

When the environmental impact assessment comes out in April, Veolia will formalise its proposal to take over the former car-boot sale site in Cross Green Market.

Once they’ve submitted their planning permission application, the Plan Panel will decide whether to press ahead. The panel acknowledged they’ll probably extend the usual 16 week turnaround period to come to a conclusion though it looks likely to be passed.

Then the public will have 21 days to have their say before construction begins early next year.

Veolia said 300 jobs would be created for the construction of the 3.3 hectare site. And they’ll need 45 permanent staff when the plant goes into its 24-hour a day operation.

Up to 70 of Veolia’s own dump trucks will bring waste in and out of the plant everyday – the council has around half that many trucks collecting waste – which will pick up the household rubbish we produce directly from bins rather than a central location.

The incinerator will have greenery, cycle routes and a small car-park around the main facility. Veolia’s excutives also talked about a ‘green living wall’ which will have flowers and trees on the side of the buidling. But local residents won’t be able to see it as it only faces the main road, not the houses.

“Can we actually see the photos from the perspective of where the nearest houses will see it?” said Coun Peter Gruen (Lab, Cross Gates and Whinmoor). The nearest home is 300 meters away from the north side of the proposed incinerator.

Coun Ralph Pryke (Lib Dem, Burmantofts and Richmond Hill), voted for the incinerator when the council was in a Lib Dem – Conservative coalition. But he had evidently done his homework asking considered questions.

“In all the documentation I have seen,” said Coun Pryke, “I’ve not seen anything about any payment for the site. Is Veolia paying rent to LCC for use of this site, or are you buying it from the council, or is it in effect free land and that’s why you’ve chosen to build your facility here?”

Veolia said they'll be no smell and minimal amount of chemicals released into the atmosphere as everything is treated in-house. Photo:©knowyourleeds/veolia

John O’Sullivan, Project Director at Veolia said: “Because the facility is essentially paid for by the council, in discussion with the council’s procurement process, it seemed circular, shall we say, for us to pay for the site that in the end we would have to recover that money back from the council.”

Veolia have consistently pointed out that 200,000 tonnes of black-bin waste in Leeds currently goes to landfill and is financially and environmentally unsustainable.

Councillors now have to weigh up how this controversial plant affects residents against the commercial imperatives of burning waste.

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What is high-speed rail worth to Leeds?

The green light for HS2 to Leeds looks increasingly likely, but more than 70 groups across the UK oppose it. Photo: ©knowyourleeds

The only way to be sure of catching a train is to miss the one before it, writer Chesterton once said. And there’s one train all politicians are desperate to board, the second incarnation of high-speed rail (HS2).

These super-fast trains – capable of 200mph – on a Y-shaped route will link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to a new rail network at a headline grabbing cost of £32.7bn by 2032.

Although you may not need to wait 20 years for a glimpse of how our local infrastructure will look like. Developments are already underway.

While electrification of existing rail lines towards York, Manchester and Bradford are under discussion, two new railway stations have been rubber stamped: Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge, the former of which, Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves campaigned for.

“I think high-speed rail could make a real difference to regeneration,” Rachel Reeves told knowyourleeds shortly before last week’s announcement.

“Obviously it will create jobs during the construction of it, but I think it will make cities like Leeds and Manchester and Newcastle, and potentially Glasgow and Edinburgh, closer to export markets and could give us a real kick start.”

Professor Chris Nash of Leeds University acted as a consultant on Network Rail’s New Lines study. He examined plans on how to deal with chronic congestion on Britain’s rail lines. The findings lead to the drawing up of HS2.

“Arguably getting it to Leeds is more important than getting it Birmingham,” said Professor Nash.

Dependent on final acceptance of the plans in 2014, the Leeds link to HS2 won’t be in operation until six years after Birmingham.

“Assuming it comes to Leeds and goes on the join the EastCoast line to York, it’ll funnel traffic from Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh onto the faster services. The time savings for Leeds will be much bigger than for Birmingham.

“The potential benefits for the Leeds link are very high and probably pursued as quickly as possible as part of the plan,” he said.

Opponents to HS2 have said it’ll create more jobs in London than Birmingham, have challenged the evidence used to support the case and questioned environmental impact and need for a ministerial vanity project at such a huge financial cost when money is scare.

Metro say Leeds has to be "high-speed ready". Photo: ©knowyourleeds

“Even now, because that decision has made about high-speed rail going to Birmingham, then onto Leeds, will influence businesses in terms of where they make investment decisions,” said WY Metro spokesman Martin Driver.

Although there are new stations being built, there is more in the pipeline. A decision on funding the trolleybus scheme – rejected before Christmas because the government wanted additional assurances on cost-ratio estimates – will be given in March.

Negotiations to introduce a London style Oyster card are proving complex, according to Martin, but it’s not out of the picture.

“Leeds has to be ready for the high-speed rail. It’s no good people coming up here and then having to chug across to Halifax on a 30 year-old train. What you’ve got to do is come here and be able to use fast, modern local transport,” said Martin.

“It’s a positive time but I guess we would always want more. We want to grow the economy and improve environmental and social inclusions; transport underpins it.”

Can the HS2 really help kick-start Leeds economy, and if so, why do we have to wait a full six years after Birmingham for it?

Knowyoursleeds decided to investigate. In this audioboo feature, we’ve spoken to Conservative MP for Pudsey and Horsforth, Stuart Andrew who defends the plan and thinks it’ll be money well spent. But we discover that Professor Nash’s isn’t as optimystic on the economic benefits and of HS2. In addition to hearing what local commuters at Leeds station think about the plans, WY Metro chairman and Coun James Lewis (Lab, Kippax and Methley), tell us what he’s pushing for in the council’s chambers.

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Public reaction to Kirkgate Market report.

Reports suggests £30m investment in the market would be needed. Photo: ©knowyourleeds

There’s been some reaction to the report into Kirkgate Market which knowyourleeds reported on Saturday. You can read what traders and members of the public here in the YEP who have details of the proposed changes, including  a tenant reselection process and knocking down two buildings.

Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market  have covered it too. They’ve got contacted local councillors who have cross party support in concerns about the report. Perhaps indicative of what community activism can do, councillor Ralph Pryke (Burmantofts and Richmond Hill) said that he and other councillors had received a number of e-mails ahead of the meeting while the traders also attended the meeting, has both testified to the level of public interest in the marker proposals.

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Final say on Leeds Incinerator?

Veolia will enter a 25 year contract next month to dispose of household waste. Photo©knowyourleeds

Veolia looks set to enter into a 25 year contract with Leeds City Council next month to burn Leeds’ household waste. With a £68.6 million Private Finance Initiative buffer, its estimated value is £550 million.

The proposal for the incinerator based at the old car boot sale site in Cross Green Market wasn’t the biggest. But the capacity to burn 180,000 tonnes-a-year meets the council’s requirements.

As head of east Leeds community activist group COVEN, Sarah Covell is angry that councillors and Veolia haven’t done enough to address the resident’s concerns over the plans.

“They’re saying it’s a landmark building. It is. I doubt don’t that for a second. It’s a very beautiful building. It’s just in the wrong place with the wrong things inside it.”

Artist impression of new multi-million pound incinerator

She’s dismayed that a lack of political pluckiness can dismiss widespread concerns, even when something is opposed so openly.

A group of Labour councillors walked out of a vote last November which recommended the incinerator.

“It’s called predetermination,” said one of the absentees, Coun Ron Grahame (Lab, Burmantofts and Richmond Hill). “Predetermination just takes me out of reckoning altogether.

“I’m not allowed to predetermine the situation for the incinerator prior to it coming to the East Leeds plan meeting. That’s why I walked out. I didn’t give in to myself whatsoever.”

It also took Labour councillors: Mick Lyons (Temple Newsam), Katherine Mitchell (Temple Newsam) and Asghar Khan (Burmantofts and Richmond Hill) out of the reckoning.

According to the YEP, landfill taxes would cost the council £16m a year by 2013. “If we don’t deliver on the timescale mapped out we will put this council is financial jeopardy,” said Coun Mark Dobson (Lab: Garforth and Swillington), the council’s executive member for environmental services, reported the YEP.

“It’s definitely in the wrong site. It should have gone to the Aire Valley where it belongs,” said coun Grahame to knowyourleeds.

Councillors across the political spectrum have expressed concerns over incinerator plans. Coun David Blackburn (Greens, Farnley and Wortley) said at the time: “To go for incineration is the worst decision the council has made for years.”

While Coun Stewart Golton (Lib Dem, Rothwell) blogged: “Since taking power 18 months ago, the Labour Party have been very quiet on their waste policy. I assumed they were working hard on an alternative. Imagine my surprise that their alternative to an incinerator is…an incinerator!”

The proposed facility will create up to 300 jobs during the three-year construction period say Veolia and 45 permanent jobs.

“It’s not local people from East End Park who get the jobs. It’s not just we don’t want this in our ward. We want them [LCC] to look at other methods of residual waste disposal,” said Sarah Covell.

Critics say more recycling options needs to be evaluated. Photo©knowyourleeds

“Somethings gone wrong somewhere,” said Coun Grahame, “the incinerator itself is totally in the wrong place. When they tell you there’s 200 other sites to look at, you look at 200 sites and you think, well it comes down to an old car boot sale site (Cross Green Market) then there’s something not really right.”

Despite these criticisms, Veolia looks set to win the battle. But that’s old news.

The proposals for the incinerator began in 2006 but this week the proposal are open to public scrutiny for the last time.

First stop: Richmond Hill on Thursday, next St Philip’s Church on Friday before finished at 8.30pm, Saturday at Halton Moor Community Centre.

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Kirkgate Market

The market is likely to see a quarter of it's layout changed. Photo©knowyourleeds

A report yesterday to council bosses made grim reading for supporters of Kirkgate Market. The 180 year-old market needs to lose 25% of its trading space the report by Quarterbridge Project Management said.

Commissioned by Leeds City Council, the report recommends parts of the market be reconfigured and redeveloped. It also said the market could be co-run by the council and/or private sector investors.

LeedsMarket.co.uk has blogged on it, and wrote a summary of the main points:

  • Reconfiguring the overall space available to provide a 25% reduction in trade space. The overall site would remain the same size but space would be reconfigured to create a better flow for customers; better quality trading environments for traders; a balcony area could be utilised to create a food-court area to enhance the social experience in the market hall; a basement level could be added to improve servicing routes for traders.
  • The view from the private sector is that sole ownership would be preferred. However, it is unlikely that Leeds City Council would agree to sell the markets in its entirety.
  • The costs associated with the above suggestions are significant and in the consultants view it is also unlikely that Leeds City Council could undertake these changes without private sector support. With this in mind the report also recommend that the markets become a Limited Liability Partnership. This effectively makes Leeds Markets a jointly owned company between Leeds City Council and either a sole or a number of private sector investors. The report suggests that Leeds City Council should maintain a 25% share based on the amount of financial capital realistically available.
  • Should a Limited Liability Partnership be created, the new board of shareholders may seek to appoint a private sector management company to oversee day-to-day management of the markets and its future development.

The 70 page report can be found here: http://goo.gl/yuQYw

At lunch time yesterday, knowyourleeds took a walk round the market to see how the lunch time trade was doing.

You can see some badly taken photos on the below flickr stream.

We all have busy lives and for many in the city, a for some, a Friday lunch may represent the only time available to stock up on weekend essentials. Buying fresh, locally produce fruits, veg and meat while eating some chips sounds a lot more fun than queuing at the tills on a Sunday afternoon.

But with Tesco announcing a profit loss of £5bn this week, it’s clear that shopping habits have changed dramatically.

Even at lunch, many stalls at the Market were shut, adding to the distinct air of desperation around the place.

What the market does offer is abundance. Cheap fresh produce almost straight from the source. Thirty satsumas were selling for a pound. Five lemons: 50p. A bag of tomatoes (red and huge): £1. A massive sack of toilet roll: £2. You wouldn’t find those prices at any supermarket.

This isn’t squarely – for once – a council problem, nor is it the traders fault. Times change. Things have to adapt.

The proposals will be considered by the council’s Executive Board in February who will have to decide whether to act or not on the recommend that the market’s size be reduced by 25% to 52,000 sq ft (4,831 sq m) and redevelop the rear extensions of the market to modernise it.

Hopefully something good will come out of this. Leeds had two huge Universities right on its doorstep. And surely some initiative which encourages wannabe entrepreneurs could can add some vibrancy and live into it.

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Fight for Bramley Baths.

The temperature board at Bramley Baths. The decision on if the baths will be passed over to a local community group is due soon. Photo:©knowyourleeds

Whether it’s the local library, the disused cemetery or a decaying pub dating back hundreds of years, local institutions can bring a community together and provide services which we all take for granted.

Bramley Baths is one of them. It’s one of just six Victorian Bath Houses remaining in the country and has survived two world wars, the 1930s depression and countless recessions.

However, this economic downturn may prove to be its downfall.

If local community committee cannot find the cash to keep the public baths and swimming pool afloat by March next year, the Labour dominated council will have to close it.

Leeds’ only female MP, Rachel Reeves, is an emerging force in Westminster. The former economist donned her swimsuit in a campaign to save it earlier this year and has spearheaded a sophisticated campaign to save it.

“It doesn’t make money and as a result it’s on the list for cuts as the Council try and balance its budget,” said Rachel Reeves in an interview with knowyourleeds.

“But I’m not satisfied with that solution. I’m not satisfied because it will mean that it won’t be open for school swimming and it won’t be open in the daytime for older people.”

Local Government funding from the Downing Street is being drastically cut in Leeds. The grant to the council’s budget has been cut by 27% over the next four years. That’s £90 million off the budget this year alone.

Critics however would point to the council’s overspend during the ‘boom years’.

Plaque from 1904 shows a list of committee members. Photo:©knowyourleeds

Also, the reduction in opening hours was originally voted for by Labour councillors at the time. When asked about the irony of a Labour MP fighting against Labour council cuts, she said the council have had little choice.

“The people in Leeds didn’t vote for those cuts. The councillors didn’t vote for those cuts. But we’re the ones who have to bear the brunt of them. I would prefer Leeds City Council to continue funding Bramley Baths but we know that’s not realistic,” she said.

Appointed to the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury after just a year as an MP, she believes that the solution to save it is a community asset transfer.

This means the council would still own the building but the day-to-day running of the baths would be handed over to a community group.

The proposal for that will be vetted by the council early next year. And they have to prove that their plan is viable – self-funded – and can keep the 107 year-old building open.

“We’re not willing just to sit back and let the baths wither on the vine, that’s why we’ve taken action. There’s such a buy-in from the local community, particularly from schools who use it for school swimming, that we can make it work,” she said.

As reported in the Guardian Leeds, although similar handover schemes have failed in Garforth and Beeston, successes further afield in Sheffield, Nottingham and South London have convinced some it can work.

The active backing of a determined local MP, who has considerable weight in Parliament, has helped the cause to save it with much needed publicity. But the real challenge will be to develop Bramley Baths into real workable community space which doesn’t need state support.


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Is it time for Leeds to have its own elected mayor?

The return of Jimmy Savile

Local legend, Jimmy Savile will be hugely missed. Image by dullhunk via Flickr

It’s been a busy week for political news this week for Leeds but the papers started the week with the obituaries to Jimmy Savile. His philanthropy and eccentricity will be hugely missed.

In the national news this week was the surprising news that Leeds could be one of the 12 cities who could have their very own Boris Johnson.

A new consultation put forward by the coalition government could bring democratic change to Leeds with our very own elected city mayor. The report, titled ‘What can a mayor do for your city?’ said:

“The Government is committed to creating directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors. This consultation paper seeks your views on our proposed approach for giving powers to any mayors elected in the 12 cities following the referendums to be held in May 2012.”

While we’re all for change that enhances democracy at knowyourleeds, we’re unsure who we’d put up for it.

And would this mean the end of the mainly ceremonial Lord Mayor? Do you even care? Consultation ends January 2nd. Please let us know your thoughts.

One story the potential mayor would have to deal with immediately is the future of Kirkgate Market. The council has approved an £400,000 fund for Kirkgate Market reports the BBC. The money will be used for maintenance and repairs. Knowyourleeds will keep an eye on developments.

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