Wednesday, 24 July 2013

"Cost of Work on Centre Wouldn't be Millions"

YEP Letters: July 24

Published on the 24 July

Like many of us who have fought to save the West Park Centre, I was disgusted by Coun Lewis’s letter of July 2 – both in what I felt was its disingenuous, misleading content and its glib, patronising tone.

If Coun Lewis wishes to talk about facts, perhaps we should start with the “millions” of pounds he claims would be needed to keep the centre open to accommodate the users (2,000 of them per week – another fact) who have been displaced. In 2009, an extremely detailed survey of the building was carried out by Leeds City Council which found that a comprehensive modernisation and refurb of the building would cost £2.2m.
The cost of the necessary works to keep the building safe and operational? A far more modest £199k. Meanwhile, Grafton Learning Centre in Little London has just had very similar works done at a cost of less than £60k!
The figures used to support the disgraceful decision to close the centre were produced this year, at LCC Asset Management’s request, by a “design consultancy” called Arup – not a construction firm, not a firm of electricians, not a firm of gas/water fitters.
The ludicrous figure of £4.2 million to refurbish the building is not a quote – it is a wild estimate (including costings for work that has already been done) from a firm whose previous projects include the Gherkin, the HS1 rail link, the London Eye, Angel of the North and Sydney Opera House. Not one real quote has been obtained for work on West Park since its closure last year, and Arup’s reports have meanwhile cost the taxpayers of Leeds around £8,000. Shame on Coun Lewis, shame on those who prevaricated for years on the building’s fate, and shame on the barbarians in Leeds City Council Asset Management who have so casually run down and destroyed one of the city’s biggest assets.
Name and address supplied

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A Little Thought on the West Park Centre

It was a place that deserved fighting for, and I think we gave it what we could, given that we also had full-time jobs/occupations or families to care for as well. However the other side was not really fighting fair. We always knew that the electrics was just an excuse, but I must say I thought that once They realised that West Park was rather more than a local community centre, that they would realise, if nothing else, the damage that would be done to the council's reputation re supporting grass roots high quality arts.

I don't think they care. They have Trinity Shopping Centre, the Leeds Arena and a That prestigious bike race. Who needs music for the disabled! Or top quality orchestras, operas and choirs that support and feed into the professional outfits! Or give pleasure and experiences to those who can't afford the big venues.

We won the argument, but they needed a three-line whip in order to win the battle. It's democracy, Jim, but not as we know it.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Letter: ‘Public consultation’ on trolleybus meaningless; on West Park meaningless; on Royal Park meaningless

Letter: ‘Public consultation’ on trolleybus meaningless

Why do the citizens of Leeds feel so often that they have not been listened to properly?

On the subject of the West Park Centre, for instance, MP Greg Mulholland said: “There is a widespread perception that the council has not been open and transparent about the centre.”
Despite widespread protests, Coun Richard Lewis said that the centre had to be demolished, while stressing that council bosses had met centre users and locals, and that their views had “been a hugely important part of developing these proposals”. (YEP, June 13).
He introduced Metro’s two open-air information sessions with similar soft-soap, saying how “very productive” the public consultation sessions had been, and that “feedback from the public is vital in helping us to shape the plans the best we can in order to provide Leeds with a modern rapid transport system”(YEP, July 14).
For the words ‘public consultation’ to mean anything, everything must be on the table, even the possibility of abandoning a project or looking for something more appropriate, after listening properly to the public. This strikes us as not having been the case with regards to the trolleybus scheme.
Coun Martin Hamilton undoubtedly echoed the majority view of councillors when he said in reaction to public protests: “We can perhaps tweak and change minor details but at the end of the day this is a government scheme.” (YEP, June 25). In other words, the basic features of the scheme seem to have been fixed in iron before consultation began.
Christopher Todd, email

I think it would be fair to say that the views of centre users and locals had no absolutely no part to play in "developing these proposals." And actually there are no proposals.

Everyone got chucked out.

That's it.

After eight months there is no centre or space that would fit us all back in working together as a family, sharing instruments, space and ideas.

And now it seems it's the government's fault it was closed; I thought it was faulty electrics.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Some things that the Leeds Council Executive Board Should Know

Dear Executive Board
cc YEP, Radio Leeds, Look North
We have read the documents that precede this final piece of advice from Corporate Services/ Asset Management. We were pleased to see most of arguments acknowledged, but surprised that the natural conclusion was lost in their recommendation. Our argument, at the West Park campaign Group is not with the council, but with the unelected officials who recommend demolition.

If you vote for this . . . 
You know that all Leeds top orchestras and choruses won't be able to practise sectionals, and that the high quality of their music will be compromised. You know that the leader of Leeds Symphony Orchestra personally checked out over 35 alternatives venues, and found nowhere else suitable.
You know that, at the last big YAMSEN event, teenagers in wheelchairs had to have their hygiene pads changed [behind screens] in the bar area at St Chads - where's the dignity in that?
You know that storage and parking and location are not equalled anywhere else in Leeds.
You should know that Leeds Youth Opera, having nowhere anymore to store their wonderful costumes has given them away.
You know that YAMSEN:SpeciallyMusic still has no base. 

You may know that two of the YAMSEN committee [myself and D Paterson] have been awarded the fellowship of the Royal Society of the Arts for our contribution to education, and especially education for children with disabilities or with challenging behaviour, and/or live in challenging circumstances. Which I hope informs you as to the high standards and quality of our work.
You should know that our meetings with councillors were brief to the point of pointless.
You know that none of people making this life or death decision has come to watch the orchestras practise in the "temporary" rehearsal spaces, or to watch the adults with disabilities take part in  their workshops in the West Park Church.
You probably only know how bad the West Park electrics are and how expensive to run decent performance and rehearsal spaces are.
Corporate Services seem to see a carpark that fits a whole fleet of SEN adapted minibuses or 100 orchestral players as some sort of thwarted housing estate.
You know that both keeping the building empty [and the same for Royal Park] and demolition cost money.
You know that most ex-users would like to return, and new-users wait in the wings.
You should know that those who recommend demolition seem to have no understanding of the needs of the Arts, and for the Arts, and of the Arts for those with Additional Needs. 

And you should know that all local councillors understand the value of the West Park Centre, and have publicly supported its continued existence. 

Lastly, you should know that there may well be many displaced council employees who are unhappy with the situation but, who, because they are council employees cannot comment.  

It is time that the decision-makers met fully with the ex-users, properly debated all the options, and got the main hall etc up and running again as soon as possible, having thoroughly replaced all the electrics.  And I hope that tomorrow the executive board throws out this bizarre response to a massive need for the West Park Centre to re-open.
Victoria Jaquiss FRSA [YAMSEN Committee member -vice chair]

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

Monday, 8 July 2013

YEP Letter: No long-term home for groups after West Park Centre shut

Letter: No long-term home for groups after West Park Centre shut

It is close to the North Leeds Ring Road – accessible from all parts of Leeds – with a large off-street car park, ample storage space provided for equipment, with groups of willing local volunteers keen to help run regular on-site music/arts activities and special musical events.

Where is this? Why the West Park Centre, Spen Lane, of course.
Such a valuable resource for the wide range of educational/recreational groups based there, which totalled a footfall of 2,000 per week until, eight months ago when it was suddenly ‘temporarily’ closed with one day’s notice to all its users.
Since November 2 some groups, hitherto accommodated in West Park Centre, have not been satisfactorily ‘re-homed’ – certainly NOT on a long-term basis. Temporary venues are unable to provide adequate storage space for instruments/equipment and have limited parking space nearby.
Those of us connected with West Park Centre remember it as a place of true inclusion and integration; young with old, special needs with mainstream, sharing a love of their centre’s ‘music community’ and socialising, networking and relaxing in the cafĂ© there.
Ann Gilliam, YAMSEN/LTNA