Friday, 12 October 2012

Open Letter to Station Commander Nigel Kirk


I think I need to clarify some issues around the situation regarding the application I submitted to have Gipton listed as an historic asset.  And perhaps I should emphasis at this point the listing has gone in under my personal name and address so I take full responsibility for it. 

I am part of a group who call themselves COVEN – Community Organisation for Viable Environments Neighbourhoods based in East End Park Leeds, our site is here HERE  

Up to June 2011 I was the co-opted community representative on the inner east area committee, so I received the papers for and attended every meeting of the IEAC . And when I lost my seat in June 2011 I made it very clear I would continue attending the meetings and when “allowed” I would participate in the discussions.  I believe in local democracy being very much participative hands on activity

When I read the papers in October 2011 which presented the case for the IRMP in which the business cases for the closure of both the stations at Gipton and Stanks were laid out, I studied them with interest. In part because I was brought up very much in the bosom of the old Huddersfield Fire Brigade as my father and brother were fire fighters  and secondly because over the 10 years I have lived in East Leeds I have watched what was left of the old community  infrastructure be stripped away by the local authority. 

Apart from that I am an informatics business manager whose day to day stock in trade is reading and authoring documents such as business plans; and in my “expert” opinion these two had some serious holes in them.  So knowing little of fire and rescue but being an active trade unionist I did what I thought best - I emailed the West Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union and asked for their professional opinion.  And the result of all that was getting to know David Williams. My introduction to Andy Killingbeck was purely an accidental one. Cllr Ralph Pryke who had up to the April been a member of the fire authority forwarded to me an email he had written to Ralph on the subject of the proposed closures. Me being me,  as he seemed a like minded soul I emailed him  and I also discovered via Dave he had been the FBU membership secretary  prior to his retirement. 

I would like to think we gave Simon Pilling & Co a run for their money, as far as Gipton and Stanks is concerned anyway, but the vote went in favour of the cuts. And after a couple of weeks of licking my  wounds  I started to think of alternative ways of keeping Gipton inparticular, open and operational.  It was a chance “rant” at a completely unassociated meeting when it was suggested to me by a member of the Leeds Civic Trust  - Jim Brettell, that even an application to English Heritage would   throw a large and hungry cat into WYFRSs pigeon loft at Birkenshaw.  At this point I emailed Dave and Andy and suggested it and got a “yes, we have nothing to lose” back from them both – it was worth a go. At this point way back in January   I genuinely thought we had about a 10% chance of success. 

We cheered up considerably when for a simple £8 fee we downloaded her details from the land registry as it referred to a deed of covenant from 1914 restricting the sale of alcohol on the premises – she had some history at last!  Andy and I set ourselves the not inconsiderable task of finding out all about her. We spent hours in the local history library reading old watch committee reports, made several trips to the archives at both Wakefield and Sheepscar to read original documents and brushed up on our local political  history all in an effort to discover Giptons  past. 

As to the photos – well Sam Hirst is a member of COVEN has a keen interest in both old buildings and local history so he was introduced to Andy and they went into Gipton on a Sunday with the consent of Tony Head. It was agreed that the pictures would be used for the 75th Birthday Party which Andy was by then on the organising committee for. 

By August we were good to go with the application but it was pointless just submitting it and seeing what happened. All of us involved feel that the brutal cuts in provision are irresponsible and that WYFRA should explore different avenues instead of the straight and very narrow path they seem to be on at the behest of Simon Pilling, and when the 2012 /13 IRMP was announced we seized the opportunity for publicity to promote our anti cuts stance.  Giptons 75th Birthday was the perfect day to announce what I had done. 

Had I had my way I would have turned up to Gipton with local film crews from ITV and the BBC and anywhere else I could muster,   but Andy insisted we respect the privacy of the party. But from my years of campaigning I do have a decent list of press contacts and I used those to get publicity for our cause.  The BBC pre empted us though by announcing what we had done early on Saturday morning.  After that I wasn't even sure I would be allowed in to give you the cake but I was ushered straight through. Andy did try to tell you about it in advance by printing off the page from the net.

From what I can gather you seem to think Dave, Andy and I spent hours huddled in corners hatching plots- this is far from the truth. In fact, amazing as it may seem,  I had never seen Andy and Dave together until we were stood in the yard  last week. And at that point we did not know that Monday morning we would have press beating a path to our door, we got much better coverage than I had ever anticipated. But I am damn glad we did – if it brings the cause of the fire fighters to a wider audience I most certainly will not complain. No other members of your staff were involved at all, but how we kept it a secret i will never know.

Surely you can understand why Andy and Dave were complicit in what I did? Do you really want to see the fire service that is already stripped to the bone pared down further? Can you say hand on heart you like giving heavily weighted reports to Councillors that make everything out to be rosy  when anybody with half a conscience can see that these cuts will mean people die unnecessarily?  

Andy &  David have seen in their professional capacity what fire can do, to both property and people. There is no way on earth any member of the public can thank them and their colleagues enough for the dirty, dangerous and horrible job they do.  For the job that you do too.  

If you can say hand on heart that you want Gipton to close and the viscous cuts in services be implemented and Gipton to perhaps be demolished and replaced by yet more uninspiring square boxes some people have to call home; or worse that she is sold to a disreputable property developer and is left to rot as was the former library on York Road then I will apologise publicly and unreservedly for what i am trying to do.  

If you can say truthfully that the fire and rescue service after it is decimated by the past, present and future rounds of cuts  will not result in people dying I will become passive voter, buy a TV and go and watch soaps all evening instead of rolling my sleeves up and getting stuck in. 

If you can do both of the above, then I am afraid you value your job and position in WYFRS more than the truth and my  communities well being. Your predecessor Tony Head stood by the courage of his convictions and for that has my utmost respect. As do David Williams and Andy Killingbeck – it would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to stand back and let me do this alone but they have  taken joint responsibility for my actions. If we succeed in knocking some sense into the heads of the fire authority in regard to keeping Gipton operational I will be pleased, getting her listed will be a bonus.

But whatever happens , I get the best deal of all out of this – the gift of friendship from Andy and Dave, because regardless  of all the discussions, debates and “what ifs” of the past 9 months I can now call them my true friends,  and friendship is fortunately something politicians can’t ruin.


Anybody wanting to read the firecutscostlives site just click HERE

Friday, 7 September 2012

An Ode to Simon Pilling (Chief Fire Officer)

An Ode to Simon *Pilling

Simple Simon* met a fireman looking at a fire
Said simple Simon* to the fire man, “those flames are getting higher”
Said the fire man to simple Simon*  “we haven’t got a hope
Those IRMP plans you passed are really not a joke”

 Said simple Simon*to the fireman –“ I don’t know what you mean
These cuts in staff and engines, it will make us slick and lean!”
Said the fire man to simple Simon* – “oh no you’ve got it wrong
With increased tavel time and less staff too –  soon it will go all wrong”

This fire will spread,   we have no staff to help us  put it out
These cuts you love will kill a child,  the politicians shout
“It wasn’t us it, was that man – he told us what to do
And Simon* got it wrong it seems  – and now what shall we do?”

If Simon* wasn’t simple but a decent man with faith
We  wouldn’t have to write this poem  (And our homes would  all be safe!)


If you oppose the cuts in Fire Provision in West Yorkshire please send us an email or contact us by phone. A combined community reponse will be so much more effective than individual replies...........COVEN are working with Firecutscostlives  to oppose these cuts across the entirety of West Yorkshire not just the area of Leeds we are based in.  
They  are contactable by phone on  07530939354  
or email them at
Firecutscostlives blog  link is available by clicking HERE

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Potential Life Changing Event !

Over the past few months we have been posting information about the closure of our local fire stations at Gipton and Stanks.

And of course the fire service have been issuing propaganda about how home fire checks save lives etc, and how they intend to reduce the risk of our local area from VERY HIGH to HIGH in just one year.

A task frankly we think is unacheivable without some serious massaging of figures, but we know that WYFRS are experts at manipulation as last year the figures they published for GIpton were to say the least INACCURATE !!!! and at the most obscenely MISLEADING!!!!

But every now and then the karma fairy comes along and gives our  campaign a lift, brightens our day and makes us chuckle.


Tuesday evening at 6.38pm a very important 999 call was received by the Fire Service - from the Fire Service to report that their MAIN STORES, a large building (20m x 40m) was on fire at their headquarters in Birkenshaw.

Four units attended from  Cleckheaton, Odsal, Morley and Batley to contain the blaze.

Now correct me if i am wrong - but i would have thought that West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue would surely adhere to the highest standards of store management and safety procedures to ensure that risk of fire is kept to a minimum.


This was a store room, but regardless of home safety checks, smoke alarms and general stuff like unplugging electrics etc ACCIDENTS HAPPEN and as long as nobody was hurt a store really isnt that important.

BUT accidents occur at home too, and a house fire is a serious and sometimes life changing event

- you can go from ALIVE  to DEAD  really quickly!!!!!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012 ----- what a mess

Leeds our amazing and innovative city has revamped its website - rumours abound of exactly how much it cost between £1.5 and £3 MILION pounds, so we will be reasonable here at COVEN HQ and settle for 2 million.

In these times of austerity is this a waste of public money - well maybe if it worked it wouldn't be too bad but from a quick play with it today, its a bit of disaster.

Punch your postcode in and presto you get a list of all the facilities  in your area, libraries, recycling facilites and leisure centres for example.

Where i live (and whats been axed)  

But be prepared to be a little upset - if you live in Richmond Hill this new all singing, all dancing website kindly informs you that there is a library on Pontefract lane (CLOSED BY LABOUR )

and one at Osmondthorpe  (CLOSED BY LABOUR ),

a leisure centre at Richmond Hill (Closed and leased to the Table Tennis Association by the liberal and conservatives )

and East Leeds Leisure Centre  (CLOSED BY LABOUR )

and that your local recycling centre is at Stanley Road - which strangely enough they are considering closing!!!!!

So was this worth the money - we don't think so. A website is only as good as the information that you can find in it, and this quite obviously has not be thought through properly.

Or it could just be that in Richmond Hill we have lost more services than other areas.......................... discuss!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

999 - Gets the Fire Brigade in 4 Minutes

I have been trying to work out how I could introduce the plans to close our local Inner East Fire Stations at Gipton and Stanks back into the COVEN blog without  seeming to sound like a broken record and an obsessed mad woman. Fortunately fate has offered me an opportunity to let rip and explain again why closing a very high risk station like Gipton and its medium risk partner at Stanks is wrong  and a badly thought through idea.

Last night (Monday 9th July) at about 8:20pm I noticed a youth go into the bin yard across the road from my house and do the strangest thing. He took a bag of rubbish out of the bin! So I kept watching and he took another bag of rubbish out of the bin, and then put his hood up. As we are constantly told at our local PACT meetings to note the clothes potential suspects wear etc I grabbed my camera and tried to take a picture “discreetly” from round the curtains. By this time another older man had joined the hooded  youth and was watching whilst the youth was still in the yard with his hood up. 
By now I had decided that something distinctly dodgy was going on so I turned to find my phone with the intention of dialling 101 and reporting the suspicious activity to the local police. However when I turned back to the window black smoke was billowing up and the people had gone. So instead I dialled 999 and asked for the fire brigade. After a few questions – was the fire near houses, was there stuff nearby to that might catch fire they said an engine had been dispatched.
By now a few neighbours had come outside as the culprits had put rubbish behind a double mattress, leant the mattress up against the wall to make a tent, and put two black bins leaning against the mattress and it was smoking badly, nasty black tarry smoke.
At this point I would like to have said I leaped over the wall in a single bound – but I didn’t I ran round the long way as the yard entrance was in the next street and pulled the bins away so they didn’t catch fire.  Then other neighbours chucked water on the fire and tipped the mattress away from the wall, we made quite a good team to be honest.
The fire engine arrived and the fire fighters damped down the mattress and made everything safe. The entire incident was over in probably 7 minutes, with the minimum of damage and nobody hurt.

The binyard wall after the mattress was removed
 All of the above took place when we have a fire station - properly staffed and resourced at Gipton which got to East End Park in FOUR MINUTES.
In about a couple of years time if things go according to WYFRS plans we will not have a fire station 4 minutes away from East End Park  – but  nearly two  miles (and several sets of junctions and traffic lights) further up York Road. And instead  of having three engines at our disposal – 2 at Gipton and 1 at Stanks we will only have two based at probably South Seacroft by the police station. And they won’t be getting to us in 4 minutes but nearer to SEVEN.

In fact by then a bin fire will probably not even warrant a proper engine turning out – it will be a Fire Response Unit (FRU) which are basically transit vans equipped for putting out small fires.
How small is small – about as long as a piece of string I reckon !!!!!  

A outside mattress fire is probably small, a mattress with two bins laid on top is nearer a bonfire, and next to housing is a disaster waiting to happen.  According to the Fire Brigades Union sending an FRU can be a disaster. For a start we wont have an FRU in our area - it will be based at MOORTOWN. And this unit will not be just for our area but for the entire District of Leeds. It is only able to deal with small fires and if it cannot cope - or more likely in my opinion the fire had spread to other areas it will be of little or no use when it eventually arrives and will have to immediately call for back up.

So if last night  we hadnt got the bins away and the fire out ourselves, in four minutes when Gipton arrived there would have been a decent sized fire right next to a house.( i have experienced bins going up before they burn furiously)  In the future had i rang to say a mattress was on fire - an FRU would have been sent, hopefully from Moortown, but if it was elsewhere in the city because of an ongoing call out  it would have to come from further away.
I only moved the bins because i considered it safe to do so. If there had been even an ounce of doubt for my safety from flame or smoke inhalation i would have let them burn and left it to the professionals;  and fortunately at the moment those fire fighters will arrive at my door within in four minutes - but with the cuts in service and stations agreed by a LABOUR  controlled fire authority are allowed to take place, small binyard fires may lead to tragedies. Fires think big but most fires start small and ones like this started by arsonists are neither predictable or preventable.

Bins -  be they black, brown or green are extremely replaceable - peoples lives aren't. And i wouldn't harp on about this continually unless i genuinely hand on heart thought that the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue proposals to reduce fire fighter headcount and engine provision was extremely unresponsible and downright dangerous.

The mattress after only being on fire for approx 3 mins.
I reiterate what i said at the beginning - Gipton is a low cost - very high risk station, in these times of austerity and belt tightening why close her.  I think perhaps it is time for the community of East Leeds to commence lobbying again to ensure that we keep our local stations and fire fighters at a decent strength  - how councillors can cut public sector jobs whilst wasting millions on Private Finance Initiatives is beyond me. 

Perhaps we can start by demanding to be allowed to celebrate her 75th Birthday in October - as it stands at the momement it is a private party - well COVEN will be sending them a birthday cake to help the party go with a swing,  but it seems to me if WYFRS weren't ashamed of what they are doing they would throw open their doors and show the public what a magnificent piece of architecture she is and celebrate 75yrs of history with the community.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Lots of word but no ACTION - maybe its time for the truth.

Yet again the Former Library at York Road is mentioned in the local press as being a building at risk. YEP 27th June 2012

And to be honest when we see it COVEN gets a strong feeling of deja vu coupled with anger, disappointment and sadness.  

Since 2008 we have campaigned to save this amazing grade 2 listed building and along the way have discovered and shared with many people including local press and local councillors facts we have learnt along the way.

So in yet another attempt to out this appalling scandal we will tell you what we know - and lets make it very clear - COVEN will print nothing on this page which is not backed up with a piece of paper or email  to evidence it. Evidence we are happy to share.

We do understand that there isnt a jot of evience that can prove the owners have left this building to reduce to a near pile of rubble,  but if you only pay £17,000 for something you dont value it highly and the land is potentially worth a great deal - its on the main A64 for a start,  and its mentioned in the plans for the Rushbond development of the "All Saints Centre" a mixed used development which may or may not go ahead in the future.  

The evidence for this are the land registry deeds, which clearly shows  that City East Ltd a subsidiary of Rushbond Plc has a restrictive covenant on the property........basically "a you will sell it to me clause " We wonder if Jonathan Maud knows it was sold by the council for SEVENTEEN THOUSAND POUND. (we have a letter to Hilary Benn MP confirming that)

UNILATERAL NOTICE in respect of a contract dated 23
December 2009 made between (1) Jason Gary Butler and The Old Library House Limited and (2) City East Limited.
5 (06.01.2010) BENEFICIARY: City East Limited (Co. Regn. No.06028128) of Hawthorn Park, Coal Road, Leeds LS14 1PQ.

COVEN met on 23rd Sept 2010  with Jonathan Maud and he was perfectly open about the fact that he spoke regularly to Jason Butler about the All Saints development and the library.

What we dont understand is how in the deeds it says

(01.11.2006) The price stated to have been paid on 23 January 2006 was £200,000 plus VAT!!!!!!!!!!!

So prior to purchase in 2006 the owner got planning permssion to turn it into a rather handsome office block - (we have the plans and it would have been very swish indeed). But no the owner did nothing and even tried to sell it with a book price of £300k later on.

Here starts the evidence of the buildings decline.............and we have evidence of every word we say below:-

January 2008 - the building was boarded up as it was suffering from vandalism. Leeds City Council boarded it up and served notice on the owner to stump up the cash. In October 2008 we can evidence that the owner didnt even have the keys to the building and had to ask for them from LCC!

From 2008 onwards we have evidence that LCC served several  Section 78 Building Act 1984 - Emergency Measures Dangerous Structures Notices.

But the building fell further and further into decline and in November 2009 the roof tiles were stripped off in their entirety. Which left a stunning building open to the elements.

In June 2010 the building was insecure so we had an opportunity to peep inside and take photos, and it made us weep. The water damage was dreadful and vandalism was clearly taking place.  

So on  17th June 2010 COVEN  went to the Inner East Area committee and complained. And in the meantime we lobbed in a few Freedom of Information requests which due to our inexperience at the time failed,(miserably)  

But we were invited to speak to the conservation officer and planning department. We were busy that day as in the morning we had been to see Rushbond, but Phil Ward and Richard Fenton of LCC were far from helpful  so we left and in the evening went back to the area committee and complained about the officers behaviour.

This worked a treat and in early Oct 2010 we met again with the same officers - but with Cllr G Hyde and Cllr R Brett in tow. Its strange how a couple of councilors can make a difference to a conversation - we learnt lots and lots and after a quick call to legal we were told of the figure of £17k.

At this meeting we asked for a LCC to serve notice that a temporary roof was needed and it was agreed that the Cllrs would ask that the money be made available to back up the request for a repair. On the 18th November 2010 we were pleased to hear that the money had been secured and notice would be served on the owners to force a repair of the roof. Then at least she would be waterproof!

The owner commenced repairs in early january  2011 - and since then although the cover is diabolical and needs re doing as it started to rip pretty much as it was put on. (yes we have photos to prove that too) as the building was again insecure in April 2011.

AND FINALLY -------- how many times we have told this story i cannot remember - it must run to thousands. We have told the press in various forms complete with evidence and they wont touch it with a bargepole apparently for fear of being sued by the owner. We cant comment we have never met them.

COVEN has the evidence, emails, deeds, photos, letters to show that many people have been complicit in allowing this building to fall into decline, we have no proof however that the owners have intentionally let it fall into ruin to allow it to be demolished so we cant and wont accuse anybody of that - but there is only so much abuse a building can take.


Come on press - we are waiting to hear  from you, every email we have was obtained legally, every photo obtained by just walking in when she was opened by vandals - and we have evidence to show we have always reported any damage that may require urgent repair to LCC to serve yet another repair notice to make her safe. I watch and wait by the COVEN email with bated breath...............  

Sarah Covell

Monday, 11 June 2012

COVEN Secret shopper claims its first victims

Our most recent post asking for help about a HMO property was emailed on the 1st June 2012 at  13:52 to the following people. 

Hilary Benn MP

George Mudie MP

Cllr Ron Grahame

Cllr Asghar Khan 

Cllr Maureen Ingham 

As of 11:15am on Monday 11th June not one of them has responded.