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.


  1. Blooming marvellous news - an in reality its taken COVEN less than 6 months of concerted effort to get it done.

    Now onto the next issue - who approved the sale of that beautiful building for seventeen thousand pounds ? I personally would like their head on a platter.

  2. Thanks Sarah and Sam for all your hard work!! The price paid for the building is scandalous! Someone should be made to justify offloading valuable council property to unscrupulous developers. It makes you wonder whether there is more to this than simple City Council inadequacy..

    And let's not forget that it is the same buisinessman who was involved with numerous planning breaches, all ignored at the time by the council! Coincidence?

  3. Probably not a coincidence at all. Everytime we chase Jason Butler the council throw up a defensive wall.

  4. These buildings were once an inspiration to downtrodden communities, an aspirational promise in brick and stone, it is such a pity that in these much more affluent times we have forgotten what we own to those who have gone before

  5. This is a brilliant article which highlights everything we have done to try and safeguard the buildings future.

    I find it disgraceful how the council simply abandoned the building during the 1990's. The condition of the building wasn't too bad until Jason Butler purchased it back in 2005…
    Since then it has been on a steep downward spiral to oblivion.

    I simply cannot understand why this unique, beautiful historical building has been left to rot to this extent. Has the owner no pride?

    I will be keeping a very close watchful eye on the building over the next couple of weeks.
    Once the work on the roof begins I will be taking photographs as it progresses.

    I also hope all of the other holes in the building will be covered during the works.

    Sam Hirst

  6. Question is if Jason Butler doesn't do the work and the council do - what will they attach the charge to - his personal property i hope. It would be nice to knock a measly £34k off the price of his posh house in roundhay