Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Hmmm. A letter in Not in Favour of the West park Centre

Well, in the interests of presenting the other view I hereby present Cllr Lewis's letter to YEP re the West Park Centre.  However, as this blog is dedicated at present to the West Park Centre Campaign Group, I also include my reply.

Partly I think Cllr Lewis is being disingenuous; partly I think that on November 2nd, he acted as he did, genuinely believing that, on that day suddenly West Park was found to be dangerous. He was not to know that earlier inspections of the West Park Centre had already found the electrics in need of "modernisation".

He was not to know that just about all the Leeds main orchestras, choirs and opera groups were based there; he was not to know that the Leeds main Special Needs music organisations were based there [and that one of them was both nationally acclaimed and internationally acknowledged], and that they stayed there because rehearsal and storage space, location and  parking were as good as it could get.

Obviously the building, that he describes pejoratively as a "fifties school building" is not exactly an architectural treasure, but so what? If it works, don't knock it. Definitely don't knock it down. Eight months later Leeds Symphony Orchestra, Leeds Festival Chorus, Phoenix Concert Band, Leeds Youth Opera, YAMSEN:Specially Music, Musical Ark and the rest are still homeless, hiring rooms by the hour in various venues across our city, but not in places that they can call home, not sharing equipment and storage space as they once did.

But Cllr Lewis does know that now, and now he should know better. In his letter he suggests that he would make " far more sense to find suitable solutions for those users elsewhere in the city, given that these groups are city-wide in their membership". But, eight months later and it is rather more than a "handful of groups" who are unhappy with their present accommodation. YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic, one of the biggest groups has not been rehoused at all!

I am glad that he finally acknowledges that the West Park Centre housed so many prestigious city-wide groups, and that it isn't just a local community centre only tendering to the needs of its very local community. But I fail to understand why Leeds, the big northern city does not appear to appreciate their value.

All the groups did indeed pay "peppercorn rents" to rehearse at West Park, and all of them have declared that they would have been prepared to pay more for the great convenience. I turn on Classic:FM and hear that West Riding Chorus is doing Opera in the Park with Opera North. I go down to the Carriageworks last night and watch a Carmen that was unbelievably beautiful, and I would like to be proud of Leeds, but I know that these organisations are storing costumes in parents' garages; I know that the orchestras can't practise sectionals.

I wonder how long they can all "manage", how long it will be before Leeds is the cultural laughing stock, when all we have become is a one massive shopping centre and an arena that caters only to the big celebrities.

Letter: Refurbishing centre would cost millions                                                             

I always enjoy the knockabout of your letters page, but I do wish some of your correspondents would rely on the occasional fact to back up their opinions.

No one is proposing, for instance (Andrew Mitchell, YEP, June 19) to demolish the West Park Centre ‘because it needs rewiring’. I agreed the closure with immediate effect on the technical advice that the electrics presented a danger to users. What if I’d ignored that advice and something had happened at the centre, perhaps injury or even death?
The council would rightly be held accountable and council tax payers would be facing a huge bill – perhaps millions – in compensation.
The decision that now has to be made by the Executive Board is whether it spends millions on the refurbishment of a fifties school building which requires work to all its elements in order to accommodate a handful of groups which are unhappy with the accommodation they moved into when West Park closed.
I think most council taxpayers would not see that kind of expenditure as good value for money. It would make far more sense to find suitable solutions for those users elsewhere in the city, given that these groups are city-wide in their membership – and that’s what the council has been doing.
On the subject of value for money, I’d also bring to your readers’ attention the fact that the running costs of the West Park Centre are well over £300,000 per annum.
When your correspondent Ms Warwick describes it as a building that can accommodate organisations ‘at peppercorn rent’, I’d say that council tax payers have had to pick up the bill for that peppercorn.

Coun Richard Lewis, executive board member with responsibility for city development

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