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Author: Bill

Freedom of Information?

Freedom of Information?

I’ve made eight Freedom of Information requests to Leeds City Council. All relate to the recent consultation advocating cycle lanes and infrastructure changes along the A660. The council answered the first three. One of these responses provided me with a report which showed that in late 2020, the council renewed a contract with Commonplace instead of putting it out to tender, as required by competition law. The report claimed that if the contract was put out to tender, then Commonplace risked losing it, and the council would then lose all the data obtained via the Commonplace platform, as the report wrongly claimed that Commonplace owned all the data. Recently though, the council has admitted that what it said in the report was wrong. It’s the council which owns all the data. Could it be because of the embarrassment caused by this episode, that the council has refused to answer my remaining five Freedom of Information requests, claiming them to be vexatious? Who knows.

Woodhouse Moor Toilet Block: Progress!

Woodhouse Moor Toilet Block: Progress!

Woodhouse Moor is the most intensively used park in Leeds: on a hot term time day there can be over 5,000 people on Woodhouse Moor, there is the hugely successful Park Run every weekend, skate boarders and BMX riders come from all over Leeds and the surrounding area to use the skate park. There are no public toilets. This results in a great deal of public urination and defecation on Woodhouse Moor.

Coffee on the Crescent comes under immense pressure from people wanting to use their toilets – without making any purchase.

The good news is that Councillor Kayleigh Brooks has identified the capital funding for the refurbishment of the Woodhouse Moor WC block – which is sited in the Hyde Park Corner car park. She is now searching for a source of revenue to fund the costs of the daily cleans and the general upkeep.

You Have To Agree

You Have To Agree

According to Commonplace, their “agree” facility is similar to Facebook’s “like.” But on Facebook, you can also “dislike.” Not so with Commonplace. On Commonplace, there may be an “agree” button, but there’s no “disagree” button. If you disagree with something someone’s said, they expect you to set out your reasons.

It’s interesting to note that with some commonplace consultations, you get hundreds of comments, and very few “agreements,” but with others, you get hundreds of “agreements” and very few comments. No explanation is given for this phenomenon.

A Commonplace Job Interview?

A Commonplace Job Interview?

  1. From January 2020 until May 2021, Peter Mason was employed by Commonplace. For much of that time, he was an Executive Board councillor with Ealing Council. Since May 2021, he’s been the leader of Ealing Council.
  2. Also employed by Commonplace since 2020, is John Howard. At the same time Mr Howard has fulfilled the role of Executive Board councillor at Redbridge Council in London, which he still does.
  3. Until May 2022, Rosa Bolger was a Witney town councillor and a West Oxfordshire district councillor. At the same time Ms Bolger was employed by Commonplace.
  4. Neil Walshaw was a councillor for Headingley ward in Leeds. During his tenure as a councillor, there was at least one Commonplace consultation which affected his ward, and over forty Commonplace consultations which affected Leeds. Councillor Walshaw resigned from the council on the 13th January 2023 and joined Commonplace. His resignation occurred shortly before the latest Commonplace consultation began about a scheme which would affect his former ward.
Manufacturing Consent

Manufacturing Consent

A third of local authorities use a company called “Commonplace” to provide a platform for their consultations. 1 Many of these consultations involve cycle lanes. During these consultations, Commonplace use social media to geo-target interest groups, like cyclists. 2 3 The reason local authorities like cycle lanes, is that government money is available for them.


  1. A web page published by Bethnal Green Ventures in July 2021 in which Mike Saunders the CEO of Commonplace is interviewed and states, “Commonplace now works with nearly a third of local authorities around the country.”
  2. See point 2 of Commonplace web page “Social Media Promotion” where it says, “Our team can set up targeted ad campaigns based on location, interests, demographics and channels to make sure you collect a balanced view of community needs.”
  3. See Commonplace web page “Creating an Airport Noise Action Plan Consultation” where it says, “Our team can easily geotarget people within the consultations area with paid social ads and even define audiences by age, gender, interest and more.”
Media Reaction

Media Reaction

David Spereall, the Local Democracy Reporter at the Yorkshire evening Post, ended his article called “Woodhouse campaigners fight against Leeds council’s plans to install cycle lanes on A660,” about today’s deputation with the following:

“Labour’s committed to narrowing the gap. But these proposals would widen it.

“The council would be sacrificing a known, existing benefit for local people, for an as yet unquantified benefit for outsiders.”

Stephen Sheard at Look North wrote an article about the deputation for the Look North website entitled, “Leeds traffic plan: Park users angry over road revamp.” Amongst other things, Mr Sheard reported that Connecting Leeds want to encroach on the Moor, but not on narrower roads at either end of the park.

There’s also a short section of video about the proposed bike lines that appeared on Look North. And here’s the reaction on Twitter to the Look North broadcast from some members of the cycling community.

Finally, the issue was also covered on the lunchtime edition of the news on Radio Leeds. Here’s the relevant section read by Sarah Wakefield.

Deputation to Council

Deputation to Council

Image courtesy of Yorkshire Post Newspapers.

Earlier today, Friends of Woodhouse Moor went as a deputation to a meeting of the full council to protest against proposals for cycle lanes and other infrastructure changes which would negatively affect Woodhouse Moor. The deputation also complained to the council about the biased nature of its consultation exercise. Here is the speech they gave:

“Connecting Leeds want cycle lanes and infrastructure changes along the A660. “Commonplace,” the company providing their platform, has won awards for their high response rate here. They attribute this to repeatedly consulting the same people. As well as being questionable under data protection laws, this is “selection bias.” As is Connecting Leeds having eight meetings with cyclists before the 2018 A660 cycle lane consultation.

“You can complete this consultation without answering open questions. But such consultations are untrustworthy. Commonplace state consultations should have open and closed questions. This matters especially if participants receive incentives. People might be responding to the remuneration, not because they care about the issues. This consultation received over 420 responses in the first 24 hours, an unusually high number.

“The consultation is long and cognitively demanding. It contains lots of information, not always presented clearly. Section 1, grid A, lists 15 bullet points. Before you can answer the questions, you must read the bullet points carefully and then match them with the plans. For the multiple choice questions, you must choose all that apply from 21 options. You have to do this 12 times! This requires a lot of time and sustained mental effort to do properly. It should take at least 25 minutes to complete the consultation. We should be told how long each respondent took as Connecting Leeds will know.

“Commonplace state consultations should avoid biased language. But this Connecting Leeds consultation is full of it.

“They claim they want to make “better use” of space in front of the Arndale Centre. Who would object to something being made better use of?

“When someone drives down a side road, it’s “rat running.” But when they direct drivers down side roads, it’s “re-routing.”

“They claim their changes would reduce accidents. But they don’t tell us their cause or alcohol’s contribution. A council web page which no longer exists stated that the majority involved alcohol.

“By stating the changes would reduce accidents, they get around the obstacle of conservation area status, which makes changes difficult to achieve.

“They want cycle lanes behind bus stops, but don’t mention the dangers, or that Leeds is committed to the Hierarchy of Road Users, with pedestrians at the top.

“They want to turn a pavement across the Moor into a shared cycle lane but don’t mention they’re dangerous.

“They want to encroach on the Moor, but not on narrower roads at either end of the park. We’re not told that this would enable traffic stacking across the Moor, allowing it to flow freely on the narrower roads. Because of slow or static traffic, resultant air pollution and lost green space, the park would become a less attractive destination for locals and students. A park should be a destination, not a transport hub. Locals who don’t own green space would be especially affected

“Respondents are asked plainly how they feel about a “narrower carriageway,” but obliquely how they feel about “re-landscaped public space,” “overgrown shrubs to be removed” and “11 trees removed and replaced.” Who could possibly object to “re-landscaping?” Why is it necessary to state that shrubs are “overgrown?” Instead, people should be asked how they feel about “green space being take away” or “paved green space” or “removing trees.” Presumably people aren’t asked because Connecting Leeds know that nobody likes green space being taken away or ruined.

“”Improved landscaping” comes at the expense of almost a metre of grass verge at the Moor’s edge. And roadway would replace green space at Hyde Park Corner. But we’re not informed about either proposal. The consultation should ask people “how do you feel” about trade-offs directly and unambiguously.

“This use of biased language and the selective presentation of facts is called “response bias.”

“Cycle lanes are socially desirable. But so is preserving green space. Is this why they don’t mention wanting to remove grass verge, thus endangering adjacent trees, or that there’s already little green space in Hyde Park and Woodhouse compared to Weetwood and West Park, where most cyclists originate?

“Connecting Leeds knows whether respondents are local or cycle through the area. So there should be four sets of responses – locals who cycle, those who don’t, non-locals who cycle, and those who don’t. These groups may have sharply differing opinions. We should know how each answered the questions.

“Labour’s committed to narrowing the gap. But these proposals would widen it. The council would be sacrificing a known, existing benefit for local people, for an as yet unquantified benefit for outsiders.

“Local people rejected an almost identical scheme in 2018. Are we to be consulted ad infinitum until we give the desired response?”

You can watch a video of the deputation here. If you watch it to the end, you’ll see that Councillor Asghar Khan was using his mobile phone. Thankfully, this behaviour wasn’t typical.

Proposed Cycle Lanes and Infrastructure Changes

Proposed Cycle Lanes and Infrastructure Changes

Earlier today, a consultation went live about proposals for cycle lanes and infrastructure changes along the A660 from its junction with Shaw Lane to Leeds University. It’s being carried out by Connecting Leeds, a body which comprises individuals from Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Metro).

In so far as Woodhouse Moor is concerned, the proposals involve the following:

  1. The removal of several mature trees. Most are diseased. All would be replaced on a three for one basis.
  2. Transferring the inbound bus stop currently located to the south of Raglan Road, to the north of Raglan Road.
  3. The creation of four “floating bus stops.” These are bus stops which have cycle lanes running behind them.
  4. The creation of a shared cycle lane in place of the existing tarmac pavement adjacent to Woodhouse Lane outbound.
  5. The removal of almost a metre of grass verge adjacent to the inbound carriageway to create a segregated cycle lane.

The consultation doesn’t mention that shared cycle lanes and floating bus stops are considered dangerous. Nor does it mention the intention to remove almost a metre of grass verge. Similarly, although it doesn’t affect the Moor, no mention is made of the intention to remove green space at Hyde Park Corner. This would be done in order to create a new lane of traffic.

Whilst the cycle lanes would encroach on the Moor where the A660 is at its widest between the city centre and West Park, there’s no intention to encroach on pavements or property on the much narrower roads at either end of the park, despite the fact that Connecting Leeds intend having two metre wide cycle lanes located here both inbound and outbound. This means that just as with the trolleybus scheme, the intention is to stack traffic on Woodhouse Moor, to allow it to flow freely along the much narrower roads at either end of the park.

The consultation exercise can be found here.


The Author Peter Robinson has died

The Author Peter Robinson has died

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

The author most famous for creating the Alan Banks detective stories, has died aged 72. He was born in Castleford, grew up in Armley, and went to Leeds University to study English. He emigrated to Canada in 1974, where he died on the 4th October. When he was at Leeds University, he crossed Woodhouse Moor every day on his way back and forth to study. It was on the Moor that he set the crime featured in his book “Caedmon’s Song.” At the book’s start, a young woman is seated on the Lion and Serpent sculpture, when she’s attacked. The book goes on to explore what develops from this attack. You can read his obituary in this Guardian article.