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.

Recognise this Meanwood building?

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Source: West Yorkshire Archive Service

Here are some clues. The photo was taken in 1920 and the bowling green in the foreground, with its shed, bench and decorative flower pot, is now occupied by flats. And because of this, it’s not possible to take a photo from the same location today. Here’s the nearest possible equivalent:

DSC02313Of course, this is Meanwood Towers, one of the most eccentric-looking buildings in the area. I came across the 1920 photo last year during a visit to West Yorkshire Archive Service (who have kindly confirmed that the photo can be published) and the comparison between then and now is fascinating. The building itself has altered slightly with some of the taller chimneys and the top tower removed for safety reasons many years ago. But what is most striking is how the Towers stood alone from any other buildings in 1920 – indeed the photo is taken from a “sales particulars” document designed to attract potential buyers of the Towers and surrounding estate. Now, the Towers are hemmed in by housing and the view above is obscured in summer when the trees are in leaf.

I find this a pretty good example of why local history can be so interesting – things we take for granted today were not always the same way. It’s worthwhile from time to time browsing the terrific Leodis photographic archive of Leeds and seeing how places across the city have changed over the years. Search using the keyword Meanwood Towers to see the existing old photos of the Towers on the site – I will ask for the 1920 photo to be added.

There is one outstanding mystery about Meanwood Towers if anyone can help. When originally built by Thomas Kennedy in the 19th century, alongside the main building was a separate 800-seat concert hall, 40 yards from the front door. Kennedy had built this to house a church organ for his wife, specially-commissioned from the Schulze organ builders in Germany; sadly, shortly after the organ was installed she fell ill and was unable to play the instrument. The organ was put up for sale and eventually ended up at St Bartholomew’s Church, Armley, where it remains to this day. Now I’m not really a great appreciator of church organ music (I’m more of a Springsteen man myself) but the literature suggests that the quality of the workmanship and its setting in St Bart’s makes the Armley Schulze Organ one of the best-regarded of all such instruments.

Which is all quite remarkable given that it began life 150 years ago in a dedicated 800-seat venue on a site now occupied by suburban housing on Towers Way in Meanwood. The organ house was built of wood and with the organ gone it slowly became dilapidated, and maps of the area indicate that it was finally removed in the 1940s. I’ve never found a photograph of the organ house (unfortunately there wasn’t one in the 1920 sales particulars) so does anyone have one they are willing to share?

What can I do about Tetley Field?

My first blog posed the question whether the Tetley Field site in the Meanwood Valley was worth protecting in its current form from housing development. This second blog goes on to suggest some ways in which people concerned about this can make their views heard.

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The Comments received on my first blog suggest that I’m perhaps not the only person who sees some amenity, wildlife and recreational value in the Tetley Field in the Meanwood Valley. So, given that the field is under threat from development, the obvious next question is “what can we do about it”?

The immediate answer to this may appear to be “wait for the planning application to be submitted and then comment”. There’s no doubt that all interested parties should do this in due course. The issue is though that the application is not expected for another couple of months. If this seems like a long time to you too, here are some suggestions of things you could be doing in the meantime, ranging from more formal to more informal methods.

Leeds City Council

The Council will of course decide the outcome of the forthcoming planning application. The ground for the proposed redevelopment has also been laid by the re-allocation of the Tetley Field from Greenbelt to Housing in the Council’s Site Allocations Plan Publication Draft of 2015 (site HG2/49, p.314-5 of the “North Leeds” document). Although the formal consultation on the Site Allocations Plan closed in November, it is of course possible to contact the Council at any time. You may wish to mention both the site re-allocation as well as the developer’s plans themselves.

Leeds Rugby

Another consultation that strictly speaking has recently closed is on Leeds Rugby’s development website, although contact details are still visible at the time of writing. If you are a fan of Leeds Rhinos/Yorkshire Carnegie/Yorkshire CCC you may want to mention this as hopefully the Club will make particular note of its supporters’ views. Note though that responding to this consultation only has the potential to affect the content of the expected planning application itself.

Politicians

Speak to your local Ward Councillor or MP. Tetley Field is located in Weetwood ward/Leeds North West constituency but also immediately borders Moortown ward/Leeds North East constituency.

Bear in mind one over-riding theme regarding the above methods – it is often more powerful for a number of people to make individual responses/representations, rather than making one response on behalf of lots of people.

Local groups

Back in October the Meanwood Valley Partnership agreed to make an initial objection to the reallocation of the Tetley Field in the Site Allocations Plan, and at a public meeting on 10 February pledged to repeat this when the planning application is submitted. I understand that concern has also been expressed through the Weetwood Residents Association. Local associations like this are important links between the community and the Council/councillors so if you’re involved in local groups keep your concerns about the Tetley Field on their radar.

Social media

Something almost anyone can do is make the most of social media. I’m having a try here with this blog site (you are very welcome to use the Comments section below) and Twitter account (feel free to adopt the hashtag #tetleyfield) but obviously there’s a plethora of options these days. Why not take some photos (even better than mine!) and share them on Facebook or Instagram? Or how about some videos on Youtube? (choose a nice day, and try and catch the birdsong!).

Walk and talk

It goes without saying – get your boots on and walk on the field, share your concerns with local friends and encourage them to get involved.

And finally….

One final thought – Do you know anyone who would be willing to do a free habitat survey and share the results? It would be great to back up the hunch that this is an important field for wildlife by having some hard evidence of the number of species on the field.

I hope these suggestions are constructive. Is a more co-ordinated response required? Please feel free to leave any Comments below.

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Is this Meanwood Valley open space worth protecting?

Do you know that plans to redevelop Headingley Stadium also threaten an existing open space in the Meanwood Valley? This initial blog asks if this site is worth protecting in its current form.

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What is being proposed?

On 28 January Leeds Rugby Ltd and Yorkshire County Cricket Club (I’ll call them “Leeds Rugby”) released plans for the redevelopment of both the rugby and cricket grounds at Headingley Stadium. Alongside the plans for the Stadium itself are additional plans for developing housing at two sites currently in the ownership of Leeds Rugby, in Weetwood and Tingley; 42 houses are proposed on the 4.5 hectare (11 acre) site in Weetwood. The plans state that the sale of these two sites would contribute to the investment needed for the Stadium redevelopment.

Before being purchased by Leeds Rugby as a training facility, the site in Weetwood was known as the Tetley Sports Ground – I’ll call it the “Tetley site”. A formal planning application from Leeds Rugby to Leeds City Council to build the housing on the Tetley site is expected in the near future.

Where is the Tetley site?

Do you know the Tetley site? If not, it is normally accessed on foot from the right of way between Weetwood Avenue and Weetwood Mill Lane. It is also possible to access it from behind the duckpond in Meanwood Park. Online, you can type “Beckside Gardens Weetwood” into Google Maps to see where it is. Much of the site is surrounded by an iron fence but there are well established gaps in the fence that allow access.

What is the Tetley site like?

Well, this is a matter of opinion, and the purpose of this blog is to encourage local people to form and express an opinion. In my view, it’s an attractive open space with an appealing “wild” character, particularly for an urban area. Any signs that it was once used as a sports ground are now long gone. It has now very much “gone back to nature”, and while much of the site is of open character, there are some mature trees with many younger trees developing – see the following set of photos I took earlier this week:

To me, the Tetley site as it is now is not only visually attractive but is also an important urban wildlife refuge. On my recent visit I saw a heron and heard a woodpecker amongst the early-morning birdsong. Also, the fact that numerous paths cross the site demonstrate that it is well used and appreciated by local people, whether it’s dog walkers doing a lap of the field or ramblers or runners crossing the site as part of a longer route. Any development on the site would clearly threaten all of this.

What do you think?

It would be interesting to know if other people share my opinion about the Tetley site. If you know the site already, how do you feel about the views, the sense of space, the wildlife, the quiet? If you don’t know it, get your boots or wellies on (the paths are pretty muddy at the moment!) and take a walk down there.

In my next blog in a few days time I’ll suggest some ways in which people concerned about development on the Tetley site can make their views heard.