If you were to ask most people in the UK for an example of nepotism, they’d probably think of Boris Johnson. But there are examples of nepotism much closer to home.
When the Hyde Park Neighbourhood Forum was set up, its purpose was to benefit the Hyde Park area. Instead, the Forum operates as a club. And as with any club, membership has its benefits. The latest example is the support the Forum gave to the proposal to convert two of the former bowling greens on Woodhouse Moor to a football pitch. The pitch is intended to be used by the Hyde Park Junior Football Club, whose coach is Adel Chermiti. Interestingly, Mr Chermiti was offered the new football pitch by Councillor Jonathan Pryor whose ward (Headingley and Hyde Park) does not cover the bowling green area. Instead of considering (a) the propriety of allowing part of the Moor to be used by one specific group, (b) who the actual users of the football pitch will be (students), and (c) the loss to the community of the last remaining quiet space on Woodhouse Moor; the Forum decided to look after its own. Mr Chermiti is after all one of the Forum’s members, as can be seen from their recently submitted application for re-designation.
Parks and Countryside have been tasked by the council with planting 5.8 million trees over the next 25 years. As a result, it wants to establish two large areas of trees on Woodhouse Moor. The areas would measure 4,214 and 2,990 square metres respectively.
For years, the Friends of Woodhouse Moor have been asking for the elm trees that used to border the A660 where it passes Monument Moor to be replaced. We’ve also asked for the trees missing from the avenues on the main Moor to be replaced. Councillor Pryor gave us a commitment in 2017 that this would happen, but since then nothing has happened.
If trees are planted on the main Moor in the way being proposed by Parks and Countryside, these areas would cease to be open parkland. They would probably also cease to be maintained by Parks and Countryside.
An article about the Moor was published in today’s Guardian. It was written by their journalist Sirin Kale. Sirin had wanted to write an article about a typical British park, and reckoned that Woodhouse Moor fitted the bill. And so, late on Thursday the 17th September, she came to Leeds by train all the way from London, accompanied by photographer Alicia. The next day was spent interviewing various of the park users (including myself!) whilst Alicia took photographs. Then, their work done, Sirin and Alicia took the train back to London. Sirin’s interview with me lasted for almost two hours. Towards the end, she said, “I’ve asked you five times about your motivation, and you’ve not answered me.” This surprised me as I really hadn’t noticed, and so, finally aware of my omission, I was forced to answer. You’ll have to read the article to find out what that answer was!
On the 6th August 2010, Parks and Countryside began work converting two of the bowling greens on Woodhouse Moor to a small football pitch. The work was the result of a proposal by Headingley and Hyde Park’s Councillor Jonathan Pryor, even though the bowling greens aren’t in his ward. Friends of Woodhouse Moor immediately protested that there had been no consultation, and works were halted as a result.
On the 14th August 2020, Parks and Countryside sent out consultation forms. These had to be returned by the 28th August. Representations to Little London and Woodhouse councillor Kayleigh Brooks, obtained an extension of the deadline by one week to Friday the 4th September. A further request was made to Councillor Brooks to extend the deadline by an additional three weeks, on the ground that the consultation was taking place during August and August Bank Holiday week, the two most popular holiday times of the year. The request was met with the response that it would require the agreement of six councillors, those of Headingley and Hyde Park ward, and those of Little London and Woodhouse ward. When it was pointed out to Councillor Brooks that the bowling greens are in her own ward, and therefore the agreement of just three councillors was required, she failed to respond.
A similar request for an extension was made to Parks and Countryside, and was ignored. A phone call to Little London and Woodhouse councillor Javaid Akhtar was met with the response that he was busy and would call the caller back. No such call has been received. Representations to Councillor Mohammed Rafique (Parks and Countryside), Councillor Lisa Mulherin (Environment), and Councillor Judith Blake (Leader of the council) were also ignored.
The Friends of Woodhouse Moor first learnt about the proposal in July 2019 and decided to oppose it, preferring instead that there should be a “flower labyrinth” on the site of the two former bowling greens.
The cost of converting the bowling greens to a football pitch has been estimated at £15k. The site will of course be used mostly by students.
Three years ago, Councillor Pryor gave a commitment to the Friends that Cinder Moor would be returned to its original function as a sports field (it was levelled in 1884 to form a cricket pitch and in the 20th century was used for cricket and football until the council designated the site, along with others in Leeds, as a heliport, a purpose for which it was never used). If the bowling greens are converted to a football pitch, it is likely to become much more difficult to restore Cinder Moor as a sports field.
According to a police estimate, between 300 and 400 people attended a rave last night on Woodhouse Moor. The rave’s organisers had brought along a powerful sound system. Local residents were kept awake by the rave until 4am. Police did not intervene to stop the rave, but instead decided to “monitor” the situation i.e. do nothing. Raves are not a litter problem. They’re a threat to public health being perpetrated by a small and selfish minority. If the council and West Yorkshire Police are too short staffed to deal with them, then what is the point of these bodies?
An illegal rave took place last night on Woodhouse Moor. Volunteers and council workers spent this morning clearing up the mess. Local resident and chair of South Headingley Community Association, Sue Buckle said, “I have never seen so many nitrous oxide cylinders. There were hundreds.” She added, “It’s really frustrating and depressing when people treat it as if it’s their own place, trash it and then get up and leave.”
You can read more about what happened in Leeds Live.
An organisation connected to the English Defence League, known as ‘The UK Freedom Movement,” is planning events across the country to protest against the Covid-19 restrictions. On Thursday, Jayda Fransen, a former leader of the anti-Muslim group Britain First, publicised a month old YouTube channel called “The British Freedom Movement.” Fransen is the sole director of a company created on the 30th April called Freedom Movement Ltd.
As part of the nationwide protest, events are planned to begin at 12 noon tomorrow Saturday 16th May on Woodhouse Moor and Middleton Park. Posters invite people to bring a picnic and music, and to say “no” to the Coronavirus Bill.
The police have said that they will break up the anti-lockdown protests amidst warnings that the events could be exploited by the far right.
The gatherings would contravene the government’s advice on social distancing to limit the spread of coronavirus. The Coronavirus Bill, officially known as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, states that the police have the power to fine people £100 for refusing to follow the regulations. The fine doubles to £200 for a second and subsequent offences, to a maximum of £3,200.
You can read more about the people behind the protests in this Guardian article.