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.

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