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Fears for women’s safety as controversial plans to light Leeds park resurface – YEP

Fears for women’s safety as controversial plans to light Leeds park resurface – YEP

The Yorkshire Evening Post has published an article about the latest plans to light the paths on Woodhouse Moor. Here is some of what it says:

“A volunteer group has spoken out after plans to light a Leeds park path resurfaced.

The Friends of Woodhouse Moor group has warned the move, scrapped following an initial proposal decades ago, would create “a false sense of security” for those walking through the park at night.

In 1992, a deputation of women from Leeds University Students’ Union asked Leeds City Council not to proceed with plans to light the paths across Woodhouse Moor, over fears that lighting the paths would increase the perception that the paths were safe to use at night.

But there is now speculation that plans to light the park could resurface following a park artwork project launched by the University of Leeds in response to a safety study.

Speaking ahead of the art project, Mayor Brabin said: “We are determined to create a safer, fairer region and that means ending violence against women and girls.

The research identified several barriers preventing women and girls from using their local parks, including inadequate access routes, poorly lit areas, and male dominated public spaces that feel intimidating and exclusive.

Speaking to the YEP, Bill McKinnon, Chair of the Friends of Woodhouse Moor, said: “Initially everyone thinks ‘oh that’s a good idea and will make the park safer’ but it can lead to a false sense of security walking through an otherwise dark park.

“People walking along the lit paths become potential victims to wrongdoers hiding in the shadows so unless you are lighting the entire park, you don’t actually increase safety.”

Mr McKinnon added: “It only takes an extra two to three minutes to walk around the park at night as opposed to walking across it. In this way, people can avoid the dangers associated with crossing the park at night.

“And by so doing, they would be helping to preserve the darkness which the park’s flora and fauna need to thrive.””

You can read the entire article here.

The Latest Call to Light the Paths

The Latest Call to Light the Paths

Evening on Woodhouse Moor

On the 13th May 2023, an article appeared in the Guardian written by West Yorkshire’s mayor Tracey Brabin. In it, she said there was a need for women to “feel safe” in parks, and that this would be helped by better lighting.

On the 21st May 2023, Guardian columnist Eva Wiseman, responded with an article of her own saying that it wasn’t enough for women to “feel safe” in parks; they should actually “be safe.”

Now, because of Tracy Brabin’s support for lighting in parks, the powers that be are proposing lighting the paths across Woodhouse Moor, the oldest park in Leeds.

Whilst it’s true that a lit path would give the appearance of safety, in 1992 a deputation of women students asked the council not to proceed with a similar proposal because of the danger to pedestrians it would cause. They said:

“Having a lighted path across the middle of the Moor will encourage pedestrian use. Lighting the path will give the impression that it is safe to cross the Moor at night, whereas in fact the opposite will occur. Crossing Woodhouse Moor at night will become more dangerous. A lit path will create a false sense of security.”

The reason the students said that the Moor would become more dangerous, is that lighting the paths makes it easier for ne-er-do-wells to spot people and then drag them away from the lit path and into the shadows. This was what the Yorkshire Ripper did to student Jacqueline Hill as she walked up Alma Road beside the Arndale Centre in 1980.

In a blog post I wrote on the 22nd November 2011 following a meeting at the Civic Hall about an attempt by students to light the paths across the Moor, I noted the following about what our local police inspector Ian O’Brien said:

“The inspector said that the view of the police is that lighting the paths on the Moor would lead to an increase in the number of attacks that take place on the Moor. He said the increase would happen because lighting would attract extra foot traffic at night across the park, and would make those crossing the park more visible to would-be attackers. He said that his advice is for people to walk around the park at night, and not across it.”

And here’s what I wrote about what the operations manager at Parks and Countryside Kris Nenadic said on the subject at a meeting of the Hyde Park and Woodhouse Forum later that same evening:

“Kris Nenadic spoke about the problems involved with any scheme to light the Moor. He said that to be effective the lighting would have to cover the entire park and not just the paths. He added that they’re no longer able to suspend electric cable because of cable thefts, and so they’d have to lay the cable in trenches, and with all of the paths being tree-lined, this would cause substantial damage to the roots of half the trees on the park. He said they’d also have to cut back the branches of the trees to enable the lights to shine on the paths, and to enable CCTV to have access to the paths. He added that CCTV would be ineffective against hooded attackers as the hoods would prevent the attackers being identified. Mr Nenadic said that Parks and Countryside believe that lighting would lead to an increase in the number of attacks for the reasons already given.”

If the Moor were to be lit, it would no longer be a dark park. Amateur astronomers would stop going there to study the moon, stars, planets, and constellations. Page 27 of the Headingley Hill, Hyde Park and Woodhouse Moor Conservation Area Appraisal states that the character of the Moor as a dark park should be preserved.

Lighting the paths would upset the bio-rhythms of fauna that live on and pass over the park. It would also have a negative effect on the park’s flora.

Locals debated the lighting issue in October 2006 at Woodhouse Community Centre. At the start of the debate, several people said that lighting would make the park safer. Then during the debate, the dangers of lighting the paths were pointed out. When there was a show of hands at the end of the debate, no one wanted lighting on the Moor.

Leeds University is promoting these proposals. It wants to make the park safer for its students – an admirable aim. But some things can’t be made any safer. Recognising this is part of growing up. The paths across the Moor are always going to be dangerous at night. If people want to stay safe, they should avoid crossing the park after dark.

The Two Faces of Commonplace

The Two Faces of Commonplace

To the man in the street, Commonplace is an easy to use consultation platform which gives some people the voice they never had. The reason these people were voiceless is that they were hard to reach by conventional means. But now, thanks to Commonplace, many are engaged and useful members of Commonplace’s consultation community.

To developers and local authorities, Commonplace states that it provides a positive consultation response where previously there was “vocal opposition.” The company claims to get a 65% positive response rate in consultations it’s involved with. This is achieved by targeting social media ads at groups likely to support proposals, and by getting people who respond to these ads to join its “Community Panel,” which currently numbers over 200,000 people. Local authorities which employ Commonplace have access to the Community Panel, and consult local members about whatever they propose doing. They do this even if the majority of those consulted are unaffected by the proposals.

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.

References

  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.”