Monday, 22 November 2010

COVEN leads the fightback!

As regular attendees at the Richmond Hill Forum will be aware members of COVEN have raised the case of the sad state of the old York Road Library many times in the past, we had tried to get the local councillors to take action to save the building and its once beautiful interior before its inevitable demise.

We received bland assurances and vague promises of help for the stricken Library on more than one occasion, stating that this local landmark, which in its heyday was an icon in the area built to a prize winning design and showcasing the incredible skills and talents of local Leeds artists and tradesmen, would be saved.

When nothing came of these promises COVEN decided to launch its own fight to save this very unique building, once a source of great pride for the people of East End Park and surrounding areas.

COVEN took pictures and video which we posted on the web at sites like You Tube and Flikr and this Blog, we wrote letters to the newspapers; emailed and buttonholed local councillors; attended the Inner East Area Committee meetings and used the free time allotted to concerned community groups to place our evidence before them; lobbied English Heritage; the Victorian Society and the council’s own department for building preservation, we even lobbied Mr Jonathan Maude of Rushbond, whose company was believed to be interested in using this iconic building as a focal point for the new proposed All Saints Centre, truly we left no stone unturned in our efforts to rescue this building before it was too late.

Sam Hirst (COVEN) sent pictures and video to English Heritage for their campaign to save many buildings in similar danger nationally and we all voted in a competition to try and get this building in the top ten in the country to be urgently preserved. Sarah Covell (COVEN) attending a meeting of English Heritage to view the results of this competition presented our evidence to Hilary Benn, MP and enlisted his support too.

We put in Freedom of Information requests relating to the original sale of the Library by the council to Mr Jason Butler for the paltry sum of £17,000 (it was later put up for sale for £350,000 though this sale fell through, we suspect because the building had by then become a pathetic wreck without even a roof and open to the elements and also magnet for anti social, criminal and fly tipping activities). We were denied that information but after one very unsuccessful meeting with council officers we enlisted the support of our Councillor Richard Brett (Lib Dem, Burmantofts and Richmond Hill) and Councillor Graham Hyde (Labour, Killingbeck and Seacroft) who joined three of our members at a meeting also attended by Mr Richard Fenton , Asset Management Division, LCC) and Mr Phil Ward (Senior Conservation Office, Sustainable Development Unit, LCC) who listened to the past and recent history of the York Road Library building and its tragic fall from grace.

They were persuaded by our evidence, arguments and representations and agreed to find the funding which would make it possible for an Urgent Works Notice to be issued compelling the building owner to make such repairs to the building as were needed to make it weatherproof (a temporary roof) or to pay the costs after the council had carried out the work, even going so far as to attach the costs of this work to the property, to be repaid when the building was finally sold.

We are really encouraged by this decision and will keep you informed of the ongoing work as it progresses. Sam has agreed to keep a photographic record of the work and it will appear here regularly.

This project has shown what can be achieved by the determined and inventive efforts of local residents willing to pursue tirelessly a cause dear to their hearts and the combined efforts of their MP, councillors and council officers, together with local and national conservation societies and kind contributors who replied to our appeal in the YEP. We hope to stop the rot of this building until such a time as the economic situation make the work of the All Saints Centre viable at which time we feel that this stately old building can once again come into its own.

Monday, 15 November 2010

COVEN and a little bit of common sense!

The lamp post, which was placed, in a fit of complete idiocy, by someone in the middle of the footpath on East Park Road has been moved.

COVEN are very please to see that this has been done if still very puzzled as to why this lamp post was put there originally.

At least it is now safe to walk down the street without having to manoeuvre around an obstacle in the middle of the footpath which must be a great relief to those with buggies or mobility scooters or people with limited vision.

It was not a total loss though because it did make a great many people chuckle!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Do you think someone was having a bad day

As many of you will know the street lighting in this area is being up dated. The old orange Halogen lights are being replaced with the newer and much more efficient white lights. COVEN is of course very much in favour of this plan. It should provide a much better quality of street lighting and at the same time keep down the running costs and all without lighting up the night sky, a win win situation!

In some places this will mean that there will be fewer but much more efficient lamp posts. It will also mean that in most cases the lamp posts will be moved from kerbside to the other side of the footpath against walls, fences or hedges so, what we ask ourselves, what was going on here?

If you have any funny pictures or stories of the placing of new lamp posts please send them to us and we will put then on the Blog

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Bonfire Night East End Park 2010

The traditional Bonfire and Fireworks Display held at East End Park on Friday 5 November 2010 was a great success. Local Labour Cllr Ron Grahame lit the bonfire and despite the very wet weather earlier in the week Friday evening was cold but dry.

Once again the Fair was there and a very good time was had by all who attended. A really big thank you must be said to the Parks Department staff who built the bonfire and looked after it until it was safely extinguished and also cleared up the park after the festivities.

There have been reservations expressed about the amount of money spent on this event (£29,000 this year alone) but the event has brought many visitors to our area and lifted the spirits of local people. It also offers a very safe and enjoyable way to celebrate this event and if it was not held there would, I think, be many more unauthorised and maybe unsafe fires and fireworks parties in the area.

However the future of this event for next year might very well be hanging in the balance but we will keep you informed on that as we have more information.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Latest On the Old York Road Library Saga

Sarah and Sam, two of the members of a COVEN delegation on their way to a meeting at the Civic Hall with Councillors Graham Hyde (Lab) and Richard Brett (Lib Dem) and Council officers Richard Fenton and Phill Ward regarding the future of the Old York Road Library.

This building was once one of the most prestigious buildings in the area and in the city.

It was built in 1904 to a prize winning design by H Ascough Chapman for a Public Baths and Free Library on York Road and it showcased the work of the skilled craftsmen of the city of Leeds.

In 2005, the building being surplus to requirements, Leeds City Council first wanted to auction the building but in the end decided to sell the Grade II Listed Building to a Jason Gary Butler of Jump Marketing for the princely sum of £17,000. The only proviso they saw fit to put on the building was that it should be used for office space.

Over the next two years the building was boarded up but repeatedly broken into. Butler did apply for planning permission to convert the library into offices in 2005 which was refused and again in 2007 which he withdrew. However the library was put up for sale in 2008 and the asking price was a staggering £350,000! We have to say that had this sale gone through and realised that amount of money COVEN would certainly have had some very pointed things to say to the councillors, since if this building was really worth anything approaching that figure the Council Tax payers of Leeds should have been the people who reaped the benefit and not a landlord who had done nothing to improve the building and indeed had let it go to wrack and ruin.

The sale did not go through, possibly because the building, both inside and out, had become a wreck. Please look at the link below and see what has become of a once proud testament to the skill and commitment of the people of Leeds.

COVEN have been trying in recent years to raise awareness of the imminent demise of this building. We have repeatedly asked questions at the Richmond Hill Forum and been largely fobbed off, we have lobbied the Victorian Society, English Heritage, the Council’s own department for preserving buildings under threat and all are very sympathetic and agree wholeheartedly that this building is in danger and that something needs to be done, but no action ever results.

We have written to the papers, put videos up on YouTube, in fact tried everything we could think of to raise awareness of this problem. This building has become a magnet for criminal and anti social behaviour. Inside the building the floor is covered in with drug paraphernalia and the site around attracts fly tippers and vandals on a fairly regular basis.

A member of COVEN was invited to a meeting with the head of the development company, Rushbond, who are planning to build the All Saints Centre on the land behind the library. He let it be known that if the library was still standing he would be willing to make it part of the development and to refurbish the building in due course. However we were told at our meeting in the Civic Hall by Cllr Brett that Rushbond were not willing to do anything to save the library building now and that it was not integral to their plans for the site, their development could go ahead without it if necessary.

After much discussion chaired by Cllr Hyde we left the meeting with the clear impression that a Draft Notice would be served on the landlord on Monday 25 October 2010 with a Notice to make the roof weatherproof being issued on the following Monday 1 November 2010 making it clear if Jason Butler did not carry out the work himself it would be done by the Council and the cost charged to him and should he not pay, a charge would be levied against his property so that the council could re-coup their money.

Since then we have had a disturbing email from Cllr Brett in response to one from COVEN asking for confirmation that the Notices had been issued. In it he observes that he has seen the building recently and it appears to be secure. We however would question how a building without any windows or a roof can remotely be described as secure! Whilst it is true that the ground floor may be secure for now and most of the fly tipped rubbish has been removed it will all happen again soon as it has so many times before - but it is the danger of this special building being allowed to fall down that is our main concern.

We will keep pressing hard for urgent action to be taken immediately on this matter but please if you feel strongly about this important part of our hisory contact your councillors, your MP or write to the newspapers about it as it seems that only sustained public pressure will stop this matter being once again swept under the carpet until the problem is solved by the building being allowed to fall down – we don’t want to lose the library in the same way as the White Cloth Hall was lost through apathy!