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The full text of the deputation’s speech: –
My Lord Mayor and fellow Councillors, good afternoon. I am Russell Garner, chair of the Friends of Red Hall Playing Fields, and I am accompanied here by Katherine Fenton, Secretary. We are regular users of Red Hall Playing Fields, a Leeds asset in public hands since 1937 and much used and loved both for organised sport and general recreation.
We care deeply about Red Hall Playing Fields. This green open space plays a major part in the life of our community – and with thousands of homes to be built nearby at Red Hall and in the Northern Quadrant, it will play an ever more important role. It unites the community, promoting mental and physical health and well-being. It provides a safe environment for young and old alike, in the attractive heritage setting of the grade II listed Red Hall House. One of our group has in the past year used it to manage his own health, losing four-and-a-half stones in weight. This is in no small part due to the fields being a beautiful, tranquil, and extensive open space in which to exercise.
The geographic position of Red Hall – to the north of Roundhay Park, to the west of the Wetherby Road – means that it forms part of the so-called “green wedge” out of Leeds from Oakwood Clock through to Shadwell and the countryside beyond. Other sites near to Red Hall, within this green wedge, have been safeguarded from development – despite the fact that they are not publicly accessible. But Red Hall Playing Fields present an anomaly – one that has not been recognised as such in the Site Allocations Plan. The fields are in the top three least sustainable sites allocated for housing using the planning department’s sustainability appraisal scores, and in the top two if apparent errors in the scoring were to be acknowledged.
Crossgates and Whinmoor ward is deficient in quantity in five out of six types of green space1, with playing provision noted as a particular area of shortfall against Core Strategy policy G3. 80% of the 81 green sites in the East Leeds area fail to meet the required quality score, which council officers say indicates “an issue of substandard greenspace provision in the East area across all typologies2”. In our part of the ward this shortage will be more acutely felt with the building of several thousand houses and a dual carriageway. This will cut residents off from the countryside while dramatically reducing the fields from 11 hectares to just 3. Despite this planned reduction and their removal from greenspace allocation, to our surprise the fields are still to be considered in greenspace surplus and deficit analysis.
Today we are seeking the following outcomes:
- We would like the council to commit not to sell the publicly-accessible portion of the site. 16 months ago, the then-executive board member with responsibility for neighbourhoods and planning told us “that debate is yet to be had”. We can wait no longer for that debate.
- We ask that this site be reconsidered as designated greenspace. It was allocated for business park development 23 years ago but the local context has changed greatly. Red Hall House was sold in 2010, thereby separating the house from its setting. Any housing on the field would not only damage the historic landscape but also push our ward further into greenspace deficit, exacerbated by the arrival of many thousands of new residents in surrounding developments.
- As local residents, we would like to participate in decisions regarding the maintenance and landscaping of the field, in ways that respect current usage, that are sympathetic to the site’s history as parkland to the house and that will benefit the many new residents.
- We would like support and guidance from officers and councillors as to how to ensure sports and recreation aspirations are protected and acknowledged in the decision-making process.
- We want to retain this open, large, safe area of land so that different activities can take place at the same time – such as football, dog walking and general recreation with our children. There are no parks or public gardens in walking distance. These fields – our only local amenity – serve those purposes too.
We understand the pressure on the council to increase housing stock. Our concern is that in exchange for a small number of homes, we will reduce the community around these fields to a thoroughfare. We will further damage the quantity and quality of greenspace – in a ward chronically deficient in both – to levels unacceptable in the Core Strategy.
As our elected representatives you have this chance to safeguard Red Hall Playing Fields and ensure that this much-loved open greenspace is retained for present and future generations. This would be in keeping with the Leeds aspiration to be one of England’s greenest and most child-friendly cities. This would be a fitting legacy for all the sporting and recreational achievements of which Leeds is so rightly proud.
We would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank our ward Councillors and Council officers for their understanding and support. Thank you for your time.