The Green Belt – our common ground

I’ve recently started reading Rob Cowen’s highly-acclaimed book “Common Ground”. It’s an autobiographical account of the author’s appreciation of and immersement in a stretch of Green Belt land on the edge of his hometown of Harrogate. Given that I’m involved in a campaign to save a similar piece of Green Belt nearby in Leeds, I thought I’d take the half-hour trip up the A61 to check out this patch.

A brief look at the map reveals that the area is bordered by a triangle of paths. This forms a convenient 2-mile rambling circuit and a good way of getting a first impression of the author’s “Edgeland”. My round took just over an hour, although there’s plenty of scope for poking around and extending this further.

I parked at the car park on Bilton Lane, a couple of miles north-east of Harrogate town centre. The three sides of the triangle are each of well-defined character, and I chose to do the circuit anti-clockwise. So first it was down an ancient track through open fields. Second, through musty woodlands alongside the broad River Nidd. And finally, returning via an old railway line that now forms part of the Nidderdale Greenway, a dedicated traffic-free route.

dsc03152dsc03157dsc03168The main theme I’ve taken from what I’ve read of the book so far is that while the countryside on the edge of our towns may lack the beauty of more remote areas, it is of at least equal value to us. There may be unsightly pylons, litter, yapping dogs etc… but the very proximity of these areas provides us with an easily-accessible contrast to our everyday urban experience.

It was certainly very easy to have a sense of “getting away from it all” on the first two sides of the triangle. I didn’t pass anyone on the walk down the track, and only a few alongside the river. However, the character of the walk changed once joining the Greenway – a well-used thoroughfare for dog walkers, cyclists and runners as well as ramblers like me. Lots of accompanying paraphernalia along here too – noticeboards with leaflet dispensers, bins, benches, even sculpture….

dsc03165It was this part of the walk that provided the over-riding impression. The sculpture depicts three figures – two are of local people that played an important part in the establishment of the Greenway; the third, the young girl, represents future generations that will use and enjoy the path. And on adjoining boards, lots of notices about current planning issues affecting the area, not least proposals for a Harrogate Relief Road and a review of the Green Belt. One particularly heartfelt plea is worth reproducing:

dsc03167It’s clear then that in Bilton, on the edge of Harrogate, the Green Belt that so many people enjoy is, firstly, only there as a result of the tireless efforts of local people over many years and, secondly, will only remain if people continue these efforts. The Green Belt will always be coveted by developers, but it exists to provide a broader societal need. The parallels with our current situation in Leeds are obvious.  I wish the Bilton residents luck in their efforts.

Right, must get on and finish the book….. I have a hunch that it will not do the cause of preserving the Harrogate Green Belt any harm. We could do with something similar for Tetley Field!

Wrapping Up 2016

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A brief seasonal note towards the end of my blogging year.

Many thanks indeed to everyone that’s taken the time to read this blog in 2016, and in particular to everyone that has supported the Save Tetley Field Campaign, whether through volunteering their time or by objecting to the planning application.

The next important step in the Tetley Field saga is not far off. According to the minutes of the last City Plans Panel meeting (Pt 90i on p.2), the applicant wishes to bring the application forward for determination at the next Panel meeting, on 12 January. Keep an eye on the Save Tetley Field Campaign website and Facebook page for updates. Whichever way the decision goes, it is unlikely to be the end of the story….

Season’s Greetings to all for 2016. I wonder what 2017 will bring?

From Meanwood to the Dales

I was asked the other day why I thought the Meanwood Valley was so special. As I’ve spent much of 2016 trying to help protect one particularly valuable corner of the Valley, I thought this was a pretty timely question.

I ended up thinking about my first impressions of Meanwood Valley, which I got to know pretty well shortly after I moved to the area in 2005 (I’d never lived in Leeds before then). These days when people move to a new area, I guess they do some web searches and find out as much as they can about it online. But back then, and as a Rambler at heart, my first thoughts turned to the good old Ordnance Survey map.

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And glancing at the map, the appeal of the Meanwood Valley to me was immediately obvious. Here was a green corridor extending almost from Leeds city centre, continuing for several miles north through the suburbs and out into the open countryside. Not only that, a clear public footpath ran all the way up the valley and beyond. Looking more closely revealed the words “Dales Way link” – thus Meanwood was a route by which you could walk from Leeds to the Yorkshire Dales and beyond.

Nowhere else in Leeds is this characteristic so marked. I suppose I was spoilt by having lived in Sheffield for many years where a number of green, accessible-on-foot valleys link the inner city with the Peak District to the west. So from the outset, I rather cherished the idea of one day walking out of my new house in Meanwood and (apart from the first 10 minutes of suburbia) all the way through countryside up the Valley and into the Dales.

But for one reason or another, for the next 8 years it never happened. And if it was easy to point to having young children to bring up as why, then this became the reason why it eventually did happen. Young child 1 had grown to become a restless 9 year-old with another long summer day to kill. “Why don’t we go for a walk or something Dad?” “OK, would you walk to Bramhope?” “Where’s Bramhope?” “Don’t worry, just follow me”.

We walked the 5 miles to Bramhope up the Valley, past Eccup Reservoir and into the village by some ridiculously-sized mansions. Then we got the bus back. 9 year-old had got the bug. Over the rest of that summer and autumn, we did a sequence of walks, each time driving to where the previous leg had finished, walking a few more miles, then getting the bus or train back. Bramhope to Menston, Menston to Ilkley, Ilkley to Bolton Abbey, Bolton Abbey to Grassington and, finally, Grassington to Buckden. We’d gone from Meanwood to the top of Wharfedale in 6 steps – 40 miles or so in total. For 9 year-old (now 12) it was quite an achievement.

Buckden is the bus terminus, so our journey was forced to stop there. But still there was something magical about the adventure, about having had the chance to escape from the city and into the National Park on foot. I’d like to think that future newcomers to Leeds would have the same chance.

 

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Otley Chevin from Burley Moor

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Approaching Bolton Abbey

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Burnsall bridge

 

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Crossing the Wharfe near Hebden

 

 

Home composting in a small garden

Back at the end of May I was meant to be comfortably sitting down at home, watching my team on the telly in the play-offs, their biggest match for 20 years…..

But I could tell things weren’t quite right. Various sounds of complaint could be heard each time another member of the family went into the kitchen. Eventually, it was “Dad, I know the game’s important but you have to come and sort this out”. So I dragged myself away from the box…. to find the kitchen infested with fruit flies. Absolutely everywhere – in the air, on the walls, on the surfaces, in the bin and, most tellingly, in the compost box where we keep our food scraps.

My pride was hurt. Many years ago, I was one of a select number of people in the country to hold down a paid job advising householders on the best ways of making compost. But, as they say, plumbers’ taps leak. I went back to the telly to see my team lose 1-0. The poor fruit flies felt the full brunt of my disappointment that night, as I subjected the kitchen to a deep spray (it really was that bad) and clean. And it was clearly time to go back to basics and remind myself of the magical process that turns your food waste into black gold for the garden (without inconveniencing anyone).

So, here goes, with the help of some photos of our domestic arrangements at home:

 

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We keep a large tupperware box by the sink in the kitchen. Into this goes all the veg scraps, fruit peel and tea bags. The vital lesson we’ve learnt from the fruit fly debacle is that absolutely everything that goes in the box is now wrapped up in either newspaper or kitchen towel. While this might sound excessive, it actually provides the necessary ingredients for a good compost, because all the relatively wet peelings/tea bags etc need to be balanced out by some dryer stuff (you can put in some ripped up card like cereal boxes/the insides of loo rolls too). It also has two other advantages. It helps keep the box clean (although we do run it through the washing up/dishwasher every day anyway). And crucially, it means you don’t get a face full of fruit flies every time you take the lid off a compost bin in the summer months.

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Speaking of which, when the tupperware box is full it’s time to chuck the contents into one of these compost bins in the garden. Compost bins – usually available from Councils for a bit of a discount – are ideal for containing fresh scraps (just chucking scraps on an open heap can attract unwanted visitors to the garden). Compost bins should always be located on soil and dug in at least 6 inches. I don’t have them too close to the house, but close enough to the path so you can still quickly pop out in the dark or rain.

I always have at least 2 bins on the go. When the first one’s full, I start filling up the second one, and when that one’s full, it’s time to empty the first. I can do things this way as we’ve got a small garden with a bit of hedge and other trimmings, so I keep an old-fashioned heap of this garden waste next to the bins.

When it’s time to empty a bin, I pull it up and out of the ground, move the heap of garden waste to one side, shovel the contents of the now-revealed bin into the space, then chuck the garden waste back on top. The half-rotted former contents of the bin are now buried sufficiently not to attract vermin (well, I’ve never seen any while using this method).

You now have an empty compost bin knocking around which you need to get back in the ground so you can keep on composting. To do so, put it where you want it and mark around the base with a spade. Move the bin to one side and, using your mark as a guide, dig a hole at least 6 inches deep. Put the bin in the hole, backfill it with soil and tread it down so it’s secure (you need your work boots on for this bit!).

And finally, harvesting the compost. Eventually your open heap of mixed garden/compost bin material will have rotted down to an untidy black-ish jumble. (Mixing some grass cuttings into the pile in the summer months can speed things along). At this point, I place an old metal grid across a wheelbarrow. I chuck the untidy jumble on top and give it a bit of a shake. What’s left on top goes straight back on the heap. What falls through we can safely call “home compost” and normally goes on our herb beds, which gave us a plentiful supply of mint, sage, thyme, rosemary and lavender this year.

Hope that’s useful and I’d be really interested to hear anyone’s comments or tips. By the way, as yet the fruit flies have not returned!

 

 

 

Falling out of love with the game

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The sound of leather on willow. The immaculate whites on the green turf. The next men in outside the whitewashed pavilion, and the clink of the changing scoreboard. The rustic backdrop of trees and cottages. The faded athleticism of the players, dying for a fag or a pint. What more perfect a picture of rural charm can you imagine?

A quick perusal of the Meanwood Rambler’s Twitter feed will reveal that historically he’s been a bit of a cricket fan. I’ve followed the game most of my life and have been to Headingley often enough, watching all forms of the game – 20-20, 1-day, county and Test. Indeed it wasn’t so long ago that you’d hear me saying that one of the great things about living where I do is that it’s only 40 minutes walk to the ground.

Not any more, I’m afraid. There’s another place around here that I like even better. A place where, like the cricket ground, you go to momentarily escape from the pressures of city life and take in a different scene. Except here you can go whenever you want, it doesn’t cost anything and they don’t kick you out at the end of the day. A special place indeed – a place of true natural beauty. There’s nowhere in inner city Leeds quite like it.

One of the bitter and cruel ironies of the planning application to build on Tetley Field is that its apparent justification is for the sake of the game of cricket, to secure Headingley’s Test Match status. Cricket – the sport we most closely associate with bucolic images of the English countryside – seeking to rob us of the most precious piece of English countryside we have in inner city Leeds, just where it’s needed most.

So little wonder then that I’ve gradually lost interest in the game during 2016. I’m vaguely aware that Yorkshire narrowly failed in all 3 domestic competitions this season, but I’ve been indifferent to it. I know I’m not alone in this sense of alienation from the Club – many of the Objectors to the application have stated they are members or fans of YCCC and are disgusted by the proposal. What a way to treat your own fans!

There’s a deeper issue that underlies all this – the perilous state of YCCC’s finances. It feels like a bit of an elephant in the room but let’s get it said – the current structure of domestic cricket just doesn’t stack up economically. The majority of days cricket at Headingley are still played in front of crowds of no more than 1000, in a ground with a capacity of around 17000. No wonder they are so desparate to retain Test status – it’s their only reliable source of income!

So we are left with the situation where there is only 1 way to fund the redevelopment of the stadium – from the general public. Leeds City Council has already agreed to gift £4m of taxpayers’ money to YCCC for the stadium project. Another £4m of public money is proposed from the Local Economic Partnership. And of course we have the 2 Green Belt planning applications and the risk of the loss of significant public amenity.

So the whole stadium redevelopment project is proposed to be funded not just by people who follow cricket but by everyone. The public propping up a failing business; residents’ day to day needs sacrificed for elite sport and civic status.

I mentioned earlier that a number of cricket fans have objected to the planning application. Well, the majority of people aren’t cricket fans, and they’re not going to get any benefit at all from losing the Field for the sake of the stadium. The way it’s going, I’m not going to be a cricket fan for much longer either.

Save Tetley Field, Save Leeds

Another month has ticked by since my last blog on Tetley Field and – who knows – perhaps we are getting nearer to a decision on the planning application? The application has not been on the agendas of the Council’s Plans Panel meetings of August and September, so still we wait…

What has happened though is that the number of formal Objectors to the application has doubled! Over 500 signatories of both online and paper Petitions now appear on the Council’s Public Access system. So, along with the 500+ Objections already submitted, well over 1000 people have now objected to the application in total.

That’s a serious weight of opposition. Quite literally in fact – here are all those Objections and signatures printed out, taking up 2 Lever Arch files:

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I’ve taken the laborious but ultimately uplifting task of reading through all these Objections. And the clear message to be taken from them is that Tetley Field (and other green spaces like it) is absolutely vital to the lives of the residents of Leeds. To their health, their recreation, their spirits. Particularly for those with no garden or no easy access to the countryside. Indeed many have expressed that good access to green space is precisely the reason why they choose to live in Leeds at all. It is clear that people who live in Leeds value day-to-day access to green spaces over and above the claimed benefits of a redeveloped Headingley Stadium.

The Council Members that sit on the Plans Panel will shortly have a momentous decision to make, not just for Tetley Field but for the Council, indeed the city, as a whole. Development on Tetley Field would be at odds with the Council’s own planning policies. Development on Tetley Field would compromise the visual character and setting of cherished city assets – Meanwood Park and the wider Meanwood Valley corridor. Development on Tetley Field would set a dangerous precedent allowing Green Belt applications to be justified on the grounds of spurious “benefits” elsewhere. And development on Tetley Field would demonstrate that the Council appears more interested in the status that comes from Leeds hosting elite sport than the day-to-day needs of the city’s own residents.

By comparison, refusing planning permission on Tetley Field would create a valuable opportunity for Leeds City Council. An opportunity to work with both landowner and local community to improve the visual character, biodiversity and access to an already-loved green space. An opportunity to improve the border with the Council’s own Meanwood Park. An opportunity for both Council and landowner to be seen to be doing good for the people and city of Leeds.

So my message to the Members of the Plans Panel who will (eventually!) make the decision on this application would be – refuse the application and Save Tetley Field, and in so doing save Leeds, its land and its residents, from further harm.

Celebrating the Save Tetley Field campaign

I first starting blogging about Tetley Field back in February, and since May I’ve been doing my bit for the Save Tetley Field campaign, as it’s been christened. It’s been something of a rollercoaster 6 months and now, in early August, a decision on the 3 planning applications seems to be getting closer.

I guess it’s only natural to mentally prepare yourself for the outcome of any big decision, whether it goes one way or another. And it would be easy for residents of Meanwood and Weetwood to feel rather pessimistic about things just now. Only last week Leeds City Council, the body that will decide the planning applications, gifted Yorkshire County Cricket Club £4million, no strings attached, for the Headingley Stadium redevelopment project. And back on 5 July, both Leeds Rugby and Yorkshire CCC sent out misleading messages to their members and the wider public, attracting comments in support of the applications as a result. It would be understandable to think that the “the powers that be” may have their way.

But in fact there is plenty for local people to be positive about. The Save Tetley Field campaign has made a strong planning case in opposition to the Green Belt applications. And regardless of the outcome of the planning decision, there is more about the campaign for people to be proud of and celebrate. The campaign has been a first class example of effective community action – since May, in addition to submitting its formal representation, the campaign has also achieved the following:

  • attracted over 500 Objections to the application from Leeds residents (against 0 comments of support) in the initial 6-week consultation period. These weren’t just people saying “oh yes, I object to this”; this was people either logging on to the Council’s online system, or emailing, or writing good old fashioned letters and crafting extensive, personal Objections that demonstrated a good understanding of the planning issues involved.
  • attracted several more Objections, plus signatures to a Petition, since the end of the initial consultation period on 25 June.
  • inspired Objections from 8 local residents groups, 4 Councillors, the Council’s own Senior Design & Conservation Officer, Leeds Civic Trust and Historic England.
  • managed a regularly-updated and informative website, Facebook page and Twitter account.
  • garnered positive media coverage and celebrity support on local tv, radio and press.
  • chalked up hundreds of hours of dedicated volunteer time – writing formal submissions, talking to people in Meanwood Park, putting up posters, updating the website/social media, taking photographs, even writing songs! You know who you all are!
  • liaised with the campaign group fighting the linked Green Belt application in Tingley.

In conclusion, the campaign has stood up for our community and brought it together. It has clearly demonstrated our passion and attachment to the area and our public spaces. It has run a civilised, well-argued and well-organised campaign. In short, it has done Weetwood, Meanwood and indeed the city as a whole proud. We should feel entitled to celebrate what we have achieved!

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Nature Reserves in Leeds

I’ve enjoyed a number of walks already this summer around various Nature Reserves within the Leeds city boundaries. I’ll highlight 3 examples here, all managed by charities, and all good examples of how to create valuable open space in the city for the benefit of local people, landowners, and wildlife too!

All 3 walks here are suitable for families with children, and parking is available at 2 of them. Note that the nearest parking to Adel Dam is at either of the car parks for Golden Acre Park; also, dogs are not allowed at Adel Dam.

Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve

I visited here for the first time last week, and what a great oasis of calm and beauty in otherwise unpromising surroundings! The entrance point by the parking place at the end of Redcote Lane is not the most salubrious spot and initially you walk next to the railway line. But once you are on the meadows all that feels miles away, and you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were many more than 2 miles from the city centre, as I hope the following photos show:

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The reserve is managed with a very light touch by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, with not much more than just a few made paths and benches plus the entrance gates to remind you that you’re on a managed site at all (the meadows are cut in late summer and the woodland thinned in winter). A very pleasant round walk of around half an hour in total, although you may want to linger longer than that.

Adel Dam Nature Reserve

Another Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve (this one is owned as well as managed by them), Adel Dam is a small woodland surrounding a lake with a couple of hides for bird-spotting. Here’s a view from one of them from last weekend (that grey spot in the distance is a heron, honest!):

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Like Kirkstall Valley, it’s a “one way in, one way out” circular walk of half an hour or so, although again there is a temptation to linger in the hides. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of this reserve though is its proximity to Golden Acre Park; in fact you have to either walk through the park (or the along dividing bridleway) to access it. The contrast between the relative formality of the Council-owned park and the “managed wilderness” of the reserve is very pleasing. Older kids will like the reserve while their younger siblings feed the ducks in Golden Acre Lake.

Rodley Nature Reserve

Due to a neglected camera I don’t have any pictures of my own from either of my visits to Rodley Nature Reserve in 2016, but you don’t have to go very far on their website or Twitter to find plenty. Although opening times are restricted to 3 days a week, visitors are generally more actively encouraged here than the 2 previously-mentioned reserves (brown signs direct you to a car park, and there’s an informative visitor centre with cafe too). It’s much bigger as well, with more to see and more options for a longer walk/stay. The reserve is located right next to the River Aire and has a wetland character (quite literally after those floods back on Boxing Day, and many congrats to their dedicated volunteers who have done such an amazing clean-up job since then).

The reserve is on the site of Yorkshire Water’s decommissioned Rodley Water Treatment Works, and is managed on a 60-year lease from the company by an independent registered charity – Rodley Nature Reserve Trust (charity no. 1070744) – established for the purpose. Clearly the beneficiaries of this arrangement are not just the birds and the public, but Yorkshire Water themselves, who are widely seen to be so closely associated with one of Leeds’ most appealing environmental attractions.

 

If anyone would like to recommend any other good nature reserves to visit in Leeds, please use the Comments box below.