The Hollies in Spring

If you know The Hollies, you don’t need me to tell you that they’re at their best in Spring.

And the good news is they’re just coming into their seasonal colours now. So, make a mental note to visit in the next few weeks.

This afternoon, not for the first time, I found myself wandering round there for 20 minutes or so in no particular direction. It is of course a place of numerous paths and stone stairways, all worth following for their own sake just to see what’s round the corner. And it’s usually a pleasant surprise – some exotic flowering shrub of whatever colour, a bubbling channel of water, or a view through the trees and down to the beck.

It’s quite something to think that this hillside was an active quarry in the 19th Century. But it’s nice to know how, over time, an abandoned site of industry can be transformed into such natural beauty.

A hidden gem – one of the real highlights of the Meanwood Valley.

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parkrun – “open and transparent”?

Recently, I’ve been getting back into running after a gap of several years. I’ve been doing a few local jogs around Meanwood, along with a few parkruns on Woodhouse Moor.

parkrun is something new to me, as it didn’t exist when I stopped running back in 2007. I’ve really enjoyed the 4 I’ve done. Apart from the fun of running 5km in a large group (around 400), perhaps the best thing is how little hassle it is. Before parkrun, entering a timed event involved the bother of registering, safety pins and paying a few quid. With parkrun, you just have to register online once, print out a barcode, remember to take it with you and be on the startline at 9am. And of course it’s free. This is currently available at 5 locations across Leeds every Saturday morning, plus a junior version in Roundhay Park every Sunday (which my kids do from time to time).

For me then, parkrun has been an entirely positive experience up to now. So obviously I was interested in the well-publicised story last week about a parish council in Gloucestershire proposing to charge its local parkrun. parkrun itself has been strongly in opposition to this. Its view is that parkrun encourages people to take healthy exercise and that introducing a charge would discourage many from participating. Clearly, parkrun doesn’t want this one case to set a precedent elsewhere in the country.

The parish council is arguing that parkrun has an impact on the park over and above general use. Therefore it should be charged a bit extra. I can actually see this argument. On the Woodhouse Moor route, some of the verges are quite cut up – it’s impossible for 400 runners to keep to the relatively narrow paths (particularly in the first 500 metres). And parkruns are run over exactly the same route, every week of the year, so there’s little chance for the verges to recover.

The key point here is about “public benefit” – is it better for society as a whole if the cherished principle of a free, weekly run is retained, even if it results in extra costs? This is a conundrum that crops up pretty often for me in my day job. I work for a charity that helps other local charitable groups. It’s often down to me to work out if the organisations that we help are indeed charitable; in other words, whether they work exclusively for the public benefit.

So, in trying to form a view about parkrun’s case, I did my usual research. Who exactly are parkrun? If you visit their website, at the bottom they tell you they are company no. 07289574 – Parkrun Ltd. But if you search for parkrun on the Companies House website you find that there are in fact 2 other parkrun companies – Parkrun Global Ltd and Parkrun Trading Ltd. Parkrun Global is a new company (registered in 2015) and appears similar to Parkrun Ltd (registered in 2010) but with an additional public benefit objective (about promoting and advancing health). Parkrun Trading is a wholly owned subsidiary of Parkrun Global and is a company limited by shares, which means that it does not work for public benefit.

So why the 3 companies? Perhaps because parkrun’s income comes from sponsors, both corporate and individuals, but it isn’t really made clear. And why is only Parkrun Ltd mentioned on the parkrun website? (particularly given that Parkrun Global appears more charitable).

Perhaps surprisingly, neither Parkrun Ltd nor Parkrun Global have registered as a charity with the Charity Commission. This is the most surefire way of reassuring the general public that your organisation exists entirely to “do good”. The last 4 years’ full accounts of registered charities are published on the Charity Commission website. At present, parkrun publishes a very long list of “donations and withdrawals” and uses this to describe itself as “open and transparent”.

But I feel the slightly curious picture around parkrun’s legal/charitable status, and how it chooses to communicate it, suggests that it could be even more open and transparent. Organisations that take a principled stand certainly should be as open and transparent as possible. Otherwise they risk being accused of not being solely motivated by altruism.

It would be great if parkrun could present a better explanation of its legal status. If it could clearly state that it was an organisation that existed exclusively for the public benefit, I’d be more comfortable with its case.

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A blueprint for Tetley Field

Back on 3 March, I attended the City Plans Panel meeting as a local resident. At the meeting, representatives of Leeds Rugby, the current owners of Tetley Field, said they’d be submitting a planning application before the end of March to build houses on the Field. It’s now April and no application has yet been submitted.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Councillors on 3 March expressed some strong reservations about the pre-applications and, alongside an effective representation from Weetwood Residents Association, you can understand why Leeds Rugby might be having a rethink. Getting planning permission for the Field is clearly going to be very difficult for Leeds Rugby, and of course without planning permission the Field is of no value to them. I imagine that many local residents have therefore been wondering what Leeds Rugby are going to do next.

It may be some time before we, as local residents, get to hear about Leeds Rugby’s plans. It could actually be beneficial to all parties if local residents were to become more proactive. Otherwise we’re faced with a scenario where an application is eventually submitted, local residents mount effective opposition and a long planning battle follows. It doesn’t sound a very appealing prospect, neither for local residents nor developer.

So, my suggestion is that local residents should initiate a process about the longer-term future of Tetley Field, now, before a planning application is even submitted. To start with, I feel there needs to be an agreement or blueprint of what we as local residents actually want to see on Tetley Field in the future. This could then guide further conversations with Leeds Rugby about the future use, management, perhaps even ownership of the Field.

At the moment, all that local residents are agreed on is what we don’t want, ie development. To get the ball rolling, here’s what I personally would like to see in an ideal world:

  • In general, retain and enhance the existing natural character of the Field and its existing use for informal recreation
  • Removal of iron fence adjacent to both Meanwood Park and the right of way between Weetwood Avenue/Weetwood Mill Lane
  • Removal of conifers – presumably originally planted as shielding for the rugby pitch, but out of character with the area
  • Removal of the superfluous car park accessible from Weetwood Avenue; appropriate fencing/pedestrian access at this point
  • Improvement of right of way underfoot and selective improvement of other paths
  • Enhancement of wildlife habitats, eg birdboxes, logpiles
  • Possible amenity improvements, eg dog waste bin(s), additional bench(es)
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Existing fence, conifer and tarmac mar the natural character of Tetley Field

Moving on from this, how could positive improvements like this be achieved? I feel that there is a strong possibility that as long as the Field is in private ownership then planning permission will be sought for it. What if the Field was owned and managed by an organisation dedicated to the public interest? I’d like to pose the question initially of whether local residents would aspire to having a role in the future management and/or ownership of Tetley Field.

What would you like to see on Tetley Field in the future? Do you agree with my suggestions for what we do next, and further ahead? I’d be interested to hear any views from local residents.