Sunday, 17 March 2013

It's all in the Detail: The West Park Centre Report

Recently Cllr Lewis has been meeting with ex-users to see how they are fixed. Or not, actually. Trouble is that the report is inaccurate, and the Council are having to make decisions without being properly informed.

We have considering the report in details. There are some inaccuracies. I thought it would be helpful to identify them.

"Are there implications for equality and diversity and cohesion and integration?" Here the box marked NO is ticked. This is wrong.

Point 3. "Since the departure of Northern ballet and Opera North to new premises approximately 40% of the building has been unoccupied . ." we have lots of issues with this a statement of fact.

Until we were asked to mothball some rooms to save money and to lose money (to save on paying rates and lose out on offered income), all rooms were in use at some point, often until 10pm at night.
Would-be hirers were turned away, until the demand got so strong that we sometimes just had to open the door of the room and put people in it, sometimes even whole orchestras. See below.

Concert after a day's workshop in the West Park Gym 21 October 2012
We may owe some rates here.

Now the word 40% has very strong overtones. It makes the West Park Centre appear to have been almost half empty! And here it is written in the report on the first page in numbers which stand out against a sea of letters.


On page 2 Recommendations i. "officers further develop Options 2 and 5 in consultation with potential users ."

I was there when Cllr Wakefield said they could not start to discuss the report properly until councillors had met with the West Park Campaign Group. During this council meeting at no point did anyone confine themselves to Options 2 and 5. This is just a recommendation from the council officer.


On page 3 , "The majority of regular use is from organisations who do not use the building for its location in the particular locality and could therefore relocate to another area of the city."

Well, yes, it has attracted organisations from around and even well outside Leeds, drawn to it for its excellent facilities, layout and its convenient situation just off the Leeds ring road. But, more, more than that, they come for the ambience and for the synergy and the syncronicity that is sharing a building with users of both a similar and a dissimilar disposition.
            eg. On The days when I rehearsed with my steelbands I would come in to the sounds of brass and percussion and go out past the ballroom dancers, and it would lift my heart to see the waltz and the quickstep still in action. Last year some of my very inner-city boys came to rehearse at the Centre for the for the first time, and I found them standing staring at a sectional string practice. Giggling and pointing, in awe and amused.

So I would say, no they can't just "relocate"

2.7 "The building does have high running costs (approx £350k a year). Due to. . .inefficient design . . Income approx £45k pa offsets some of this expenditure. "

Now, the perfect and inclusive Arts, Sports and General Culture Centre would consist of a building with one or two storeys with performance spaces at the end of 3 or 4 spurs, so that sounds wouldn't bleed into each other. Safe, fenced-off grassy areas for playtimes, and fields adjacent for outdoor sports. A large carpark for the minibuses with disabled access. Gyms with sprung floors and mirrors so they can do sports and dance. Many large storerooms essentially opposite the carpark for easy loading. Easy to find coming from all parts of Leeds just off the Otley Road], and from all other towns in the north [just off the ringroad].

Musicians could get into other cultural activities and sportspeople could check out the instruments they would like to try etc etc etc etc. Foxtrot anyone?

The reason that income was so low is that some groups paid nothing or next to nothing. Costed up properly you would see that the Council was correctly spending money where the mouth is - on the young people and on the disabled and those with additional needs. Not as money as such, but in the form of a building which specially adapted itself over time.


Page 9 "ArtForms service delivery from City of Leeds has been successful to date and the music service would like to continue delivering from the school. . . YAMSEN . . . their temporary solution does not meet their long term needs."

Well, the ArtForms admin team is working from a previously mothballed floor in Merrion House; the City of Leeds Youth Music Bands and Orchestras rehearse at City of Leeds School or at Sacred Heart PS, and the instrument stock is in a warehouse at Domestic Street. It is not for me to comment here as to how this might constitute "successful", but I am guessing not ideal.

YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic however has no solution, temporary or otherwise. Its instruments, its specialised equipment designed for the needs of its children and adults with Additional/Special Needs lie, unaccessed at various locations around Leeds, the team has to book and pay full rate for rooms where it can find them;  the  Friday YAM adult sessions are just about surviving at the West Park Church in Spen Lane; the Christmas Singalong was cancelled [for the first time in decades]; the Big Town Hall Concert went ahead with some difficulty. Music therapy sessions are at Heart in Headingley.

                         to be continued . . . .

Sent from my iPad

Thursday, 14 March 2013

We wrote to the Ombudsman

Lorraine wrote thus to the Ombudsman, 

On Behalf of W.P.C.C.G

To Whom it may Concern,
I am writing to complain to the council in relation to the temporary closure of the West Wark Centre in November 2012.

I wish to highlight the following two points in relation to my complaint
1-There was a clear lack of consideration given to the initial consultation process and then in turn there was not enough heed given to the views expressed by users of the centre. In short the public consultation was inadequate.

2-The Centre was not valued correctly either in a) monetary terms or b) in human terms (ie how many people use the centre)

In relation to point 1
`requirments of a fair consultation process are well known and must adhere to the following.
(i)             Consulation must take place when the proposal is still in a formative stage. (I believe this not to be the case)
(ii)           Sufficient reasons must be put forward for the proposal to allow intelligent consideration and response. (This point was not honoured)

In order for a consulation process to be deemed as fair it must follow the correct procedure.
Fairness in consultation requires that sufficient information about the findings and criteria relied on by the decision maker is given to the consultees (ie the centre users) to enable them to effectively change/make representation upon

       The accuracy of the underlying facts

The validity of the criteria evaluation process on which decisions are made.

Adequate time must be given for consideration and response.

The product of consulation (ie responses and opinions of centre users) must be conscientiously taken into account-this has clearly not been the case in relation to the closure of the West park Centre.

I conclude that there was non-disclosure to relevant consultees of information central to the possible outcomes in terms of  this consulation. I believe that decisions regarding the centre were made prior to any consultation process and that any meetings held were simply a formality. I believe no major decisions were altered/made in direct response to the needs of the community of Leeds who use the Centre.

The Centre is used by many groups. I wish to high light the fact that many of the users do have disabilities. They represent to some extent some of the most vulnerable members of our society. At West Wark which has disabled access and adequate parking/loading. In using the centre, people who would otherwise be isolated individuals were brought together to work creatively. In some instances these activities led to community engagement which is impossible to place a value on.

Regarding the reason given for the closure (The faulty electrics) it has been stated by myself and countless others who are now members of the W.P.C.C.G (The West Park Centre Campaign Group) that there was no difference in previous reports in relation to the electrics. If the electrics were unsafe in November 2012 then they were equally unsafe inva previous report given in 2009.

Also it is well known that the centre was opened after the electrics were declared unsafe for a Russian dance group to perform. If there was serious risk to life and limb then why was the centre re-opened?

I represent myself as a member of the community. I represent Musical Arc which is a charity which supports disabled people to compose and perform music. I also represent the W.P.C.C.G (a group formed in response to the closure)

We request transparency relating to the economic gain which the council stands to make in relation to the decisions surrounding the land which West park now stands.
We request urgently that the electrics are fixed and that users are allowed back into the community building which housed so many wonderful people and activities.
When West Park was closed it destroyed people’s lives and people's livelihoods. It has affected hundreds of people on a personal, financial and spiritual and creative basis. A full enquiry must be held. There is money within the council to spend on the community. We can not keep justifying decisions which are made on this scale by saying “we need to make cuts” We can not allow the very fabric of our society to be eroded by decisions of finance. There is money out there and it is constantly being spent.

I believe that the centre closure and the reasons given for the sudden closure were pre meditated on financial grounds. I believe that the centre has been allowed to be “Run down” I believe there has been a background conversation in relation to closure for over 10 years. I believe that the closure and the way it was handled is bordering on fraud.

I request a reponse within 10 working days.


J Lorraine Cowburn

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Who's Sitting on the Street with a Dog on a String?

Who has been made homeless by the closure of the West Park Centre? Here's a list of some ex-users [in italics if I am aware that they are satisfactorily, but maybe temporarily, housed elsewhere]:

Leeds ArtForms

WPC tenants:
Blah Blah Blah Theatre Company
Carole's Kiosk
Green Monkey Film
Irish Arts Foundation
Travellers' Education [GRITAS- Gypsy Roma]
Leeds Talking Newspaper
Musical Arc

Weekly Hirers:
Airedale/Wharfedale Dog Training
Bootcamp Fitness [Oct-Mar]
Post-natal Bootcamp Fitness
Elemental Kickboxing
Free Range Choir
Gamblers Anonymous
Hearing-Impaired Service
Leeds Ballroom Dancers
Leeds Contra Dance
Leeds Festival Chorus
Leeds NHS Stop Smoking
Leeds Reformed Baptist Church
Leeds Symphony Orchestra
Leeds Youth Opera
Leeds Youth Service [girls' groups?]
Phoenix Concert Band
School of Rock and Pop
Visually Impaired Service
Watercolour Class
Weight Watchers
West Riding Opera
Yorkshire Late Starters

The Ad hocs [at least once a month]
Leeds Branch Scottish Dance
Leeds NHS
School Home Support Service

Leeds Youth Service [Boys Group]
Leeds Youth Service [Girls Group]
Moor Grange Action Group
Moor Grange Tenants
Spen Hill Residents Association
West Park Residents
Victim Support
Leeds NUT
WNW Leeds Disability Equality Network

There are others. I'll add them as I discover them.

Friday, 8 March 2013

On Behalf of Those Who Can't Speak up for Themselves

From: Irene M Peace
6th March 2013

Dear Councillors and Colleagues,

One hundred and twenty four days ! Yes, this is the time which has passed since the West Park Centre was closed without fair notice – causing YAMSEN (and many other organisations) to be compulsorily decamped along with their valuable instruments, props, equipment, manuscripts and much more. Result – We, at YAMSEN are determined to carry on with the work we are known for throughout Leeds, Yorkshire and beyond even though with considerable difficulty. All of our instruments, documents, equipment etc. is stored in varying schools, peoples houses and a lock up in Holbeck involving us in additional expense in the excessive transporting involved as well as all the inconvenience. Other specialised equipment, such as that used in the light/sound sensory room lies dormant since we had to move, a waste of valuable assets. We have, additionally, had to hire various church halls and other rooms at considerable cost to our organisation which, I may remind you, is a registered charity of long standing.

In addition to our three large choirs we are determined to keep as many of our regular rehearsals, workshops and classes going notwithstanding the extreme difficulties. Two of our regular events to be held in June, the Multi Sensory Day and Donkey Daze each cost us £1000.00 room hire plus cost of transporting equipment. Both of these events are for children, many with multiple disabilities requiring suitable wheelchair access and associated facilities.

The adult choir Off By Heart (so named by the members because a fair proportion of them have to learn the words of the tunes ‘off by heart’) will shortly be singing in the Rothwell Music Festival and the Wharfedale Music Festival as well as, by invitation, at a number of concerts at venues around the region.

All of this shows how determined and committed we are to continuing our work. However, we desperately need to be back in the West Park Centre ! Why? Because it has all the facilities that we require and on one level – full wheelchair access, large, free car park, large halls for big events, many smaller rooms for additional activities, lots of storage space, a library,, an office, disabled toilet, spacious foyer for registration, socialising and refreshments.

Surely you and your fellow councillors can show that some of you have a heart and give consideration now to the needs of the hundreds on whose behalf we work who have very Special Needs and who cannot speak for themselves. Open the doors to the West Park Centre for us now ! Yours sincerely.

 Irene M Peace

West Park in YEP, West Park in LImbo

Arts groups and councillors have expressed their dismay at the rejection of plans to bring a centre, which was closed suddenly, back into use.
The West Park Centre, which is located on a former school site in Spen Lane, west Leeds, was shut in November due to hazardous electrics but, the following day, a party attended by the Lord Mayor of Leeds was held at the site.
At last week’s full meeting of Leeds City Council, Liberal Democrat councillors tried to include a £1.15m fund to carry out immediate repairs to the centre but they were voted against by the majority.
Repairs to the centre, which was home to several charities, have been quoted at £931,000.
Coun Judith Chapman (Lib Dem, Weetwood) said: “It is unfair that community groups are being left in limbo like this.
“The West Park Centre is an important facility for local people and we will keep on pushing for a firm response as to what the future holds for the building.”
She said it will be nearly two months until the next report on the centre’s future is presented to the council’s executive board.
The Lib Dem Group proposed the repairs, which would fix more than half of the centre, should be funded by borrowing in a bid to get it running again.
Julia De Los Rios, co-ordinator at Musical Arc, an arts charity based at the centre until November, said: “It’s very disappointing but it’s probably not surprising.
“We felt we were part of the very special city of Leeds arts network and all of that’s gone.”
At last week’s meeting Coun Keith Wakefield, leader of the council, labelled all proposals for budget changes as “dodgy, dubious and dangerous”, stating that the council had made £55m of cuts and needs to make another £51m of savings next year.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Wiring at West Park

The Russians in the Main Hall the day after
One member of the West Park Campaign Group has been trawling: 

The current discussions about West Park's future within Leeds City Council are largely being informed by an 'Options Appraisal' report which has been produced by Asset Management. You can read this document here:

At the heart of this document is a list of five possible future options for the building - retention, part retention / part demolition, total demolition + newbuild on the site, total demolition + decant users elsewhere, total demolition + smaller newbuild for community use - and projected costs for each. These costs are largely based on a report from a company called Arup.

Arup are one of Leeds City Council's "technical advice" partners. The firm itself is a multinational consultancy which has worked on illustrious projects including the Gherkin, the London Eye, Angel of the North, High Speed 1 rail link and Sydney Opera House. You can read their report here:

The report is largely a review of Leeds City Council's own building condition survey from 2009, with additional comments based on a limited visual inspection of the building following the closure in November 2012. The main point on which they diverge from the Council's report (which you can read at is the question of costings. Arup's costings for 'backlog maintenance' on the building are uniformly about double the Council's own estimates. This is the source of the alleged £1million worth of work that will be needed to make the building viable again.

Where do Arup's figures come from? They are not a firm of electrical contractors, gas fitters, plumbers or builders - indeed, they caveat the figures themselves in the report ("the authors of this report are neither quantity nor building surveyors ... it is beyond the scope of this report to provide firm costs"). There is no question of Arup themselves actually doing this work. Have the Council gone to an electrician, gas fitter, plumber or builder to get quotes and establish a realistic cost for the work that needs to be done? No. Have they waved the £1m figure around like it's gospel and not a wild estimate? Erm, yes.

Meanwhile, these peculiarly inflated costings are being bandied around the official Council documents that are informing the debate about the building's future amongst officers and elected representatives. They are the figures that make it into the local press - £1m needed to repair West Park, says the Evening Post ( What are they actually based on? No one knows.

Incidentally, the Arup report proposes that all of the electrical wiring in the building is obsolete/dangerous and in need of urgent replacement. It ignores the fact that many parts of the building (the main hall, the entire classroom block stretching from the hall to the Gordon Parry Centre , the Gordon Parry Centre itself, the ArtForms instrument store) have been partially or even fully rewired in either the 2000s or 1990s. It is not in dispute that the overall system (and in particular much of the central switchgear) is in need of modernisation - but why do they also want to replace the bits that are OK? The 2009 report, on the other hand, seems to look at each room on a case-by-case basis. Wonder why they've decided to drop that approach now?

A final point. Elsewhere in Leeds, work is currently underway on the renovation of the Grafton Learning Centre, another old school building (admittedly smaller than West Park) that has been allowed to get into a bad way. Total cost for LCC Electrical Services to do a complete rewire, including new burglar alarm system and emergency lighting? Just south of £60,000. Bit more thrifty than the £549,000 that Arup is quoting for the same job at West Park, then.