Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Parks nursery set to move as part of east Leeds developments

Leeds City Council’s award-winning parks and countryside nursery could be on the move as part of plans to develop two areas of east Leeds.

The council’s executive board will be asked at its meeting on Wednesday 4 September to approve a design and cost report being produced to move the nursery from its current location at Red Hall to a purpose-built new facility on council-managed land at Whinmoor Grange.

The move would free up the council-owned land at Red Hall for possible future sale for development as part of the proposed East Leeds Extension to provide major new housing and associated amenities.

The council has previously agreed a planning vision for Whinmoor Grange, which includes the relocated nursery plus the new cemetery which opened in July and sports pitches.

The council currently manages 28 hectares of land at Red Hall, which is occupied by the parks and countryside nursery plus horticultural facilities and playing fields which have been unable to be used as sports pitches for several years due to poor drainage.

The area has been earmarked as being of high potential value for future housing, with any such development needing a new road dubbed the East Leeds Orbital Road (ELOR) to be built to service the new houses and ease the pressure on the existing road network. It is expected that the route of the ELOR would take it through the existing Red Hall site.

To allow for such a development to happen, the nursery and associated facilities plus some playing pitches provision would be relocated to a new site at Whinmoor Grange. Such a move could be completed by the end of 2016.

The parks and countryside nursery at Red Hall is the only one of its type in the city, occupying 10.5 hectares of land and producing more than two million bedding plants and approximately 250,000 edibles each year for a range of customers including schools, businesses and community ‘Leeds in Bloom’ groups.

The nursery has a national reputation for horticultural excellence, as shown by the back-to-back gold medals earned at the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show with show gardens which featured planting schemes and produce developed at Red Hall.

The nursery is also popular with visitors, with open days to the site being well attended and the shop performing well all-year-round. It is currently playing a key role in the city’s new ‘Feed Leeds’ community food growing initiative, offering starter packs and advice for anyone wishing to take part as well as hosting food being grown by community groups across the city.

The nursery’s other main function is as a centre for excellence in training, with a new apprenticeship programme in place offering the chance for young people to develop training and skills in horticulture.

An initial assessment has revealed that a new nursery at Whinmoor Grange could be more efficiently designed to bring about a 40 per cent saving in space than the current site, resulting in a smaller nursery but with no detrimental effect on its operation.

Leeds City Council executive member for the environment Councillor Mark Dobson said:

“As part of the broader important plans for the proposed East Leeds Extension, the nursery site at Red Hall will need to be moved. The nursery is very popular and serves an important role within the city so we are looking to create a new improved site at Whinmoor Grange which will become the new home of horticulture in Leeds.”

Leeds City Council executive member for the economy and development Councillor Richard Lewis said:

“Development in the East Leeds Extension will play a significant role in helping the city meet its housing growth ambitions and needs. The relocation of the nursery will create an opportunity for the council to set some benchmarks in the quality of new development at Red Hall, retain important local facilities for the area and contribute positively to the existing neighbourhoods. Local people will have a key role to play in helping shape the proposals for the site.”

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:
Roger Boyde,
Leeds City Council press office,
Tel 0113 247 5472
Email: roger.boyde@leeds.gov.uk

Arena event raises £9000 for cancer charity


Picture caption: "Louise Creedon from Macmillan receives the donation from Nigel McAvoy from BAM, while  Gordon Alexader from SMG Europe and Cllr Richard Lewis look on."


A charity event held earlier this year to celebrate the completion of the construction of the first direct arena raised £9000 for Macmillan Cancer Care.

The event, which was organised by contractors BAM and Leeds City Council to celebrate handing over the arena building to operators SMG Europe – gave people who worked on the arena a chance to get a sneak–peek of the newly completed building.

Representatives from BAM, SMG and Leeds City Council handed over the donation of £9000 to Macmillan Cancer Care – which was raised from a charity auction at the event earlier this year.

Councillor Richard Lewis, executive member responsible for economy and development said: “Macmillan is a fantastic organisation which does some really worthwhile work with cancer patients and their families.

“It is great that all the partners involved in creating this wonderful building and focal point for the city, have been able to help raise this money for such a well deserving charity.”

John Philips, construction director for BAM said:“It has been a real privilege to be part of the team that has delivered this world class Arena for Leeds. Throughout its life the project has provided a vehicle for so many good causes and we are very proud to have contributed to the Macmillan Cancer Charity”;

“Every one of the people that worked for BAM on this complex and wonderful building wanted to give their time and energy to help Macmillan Cancer Support. That tells you not only how good team spirit was at the Leeds Arena, but also how important and motivating it is for us to help Macmillan which gives the community practical help to fight cancer.”

Work on the £60m, arena, which saw its first performance by US rock superstar Bruce Springsteen in July this year, started in February 2011, and the building was topped-out by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth during her Diamond Jubilee tour in 2012.

The arena which has a 13,000 seat capacity, will host more than 140 events each year including rock concerts, boxing matches, comedy shows and ice dancing.

The first direct area is a theatre style venue with all seats facing the performance area, with perfect sight-lines and spectators much closer to the stage than other traditional bowl venues. The external design is a stunning honeycomb of lights that can change colour to reflect the mood of event at the time.

ENDS
For media enquiries, please contact:
Emma Whittell, Leeds City Council press office, on (0113) 2474713
Email: emma.whittell@leeds.gov.uk

New way forward on council allotments to be discussed

Proposals setting out the potential rental cost and management of Leeds City Council allotments in the future are set to be discussed by senior councillors next week.

This report, which will be presented to members of the executive board, follows a two month public consultation undertaken by the council that asked plot holders across the city and allotment federations for their views on how best to address a net subsidy in the allotment service, which currently totals £133k a year.

Presently, there are 97 allotment sites in Leeds, with 37 directly managed by the council’s Parks and Countryside service and 60 managed by allotment associations.

The results of the consultation found that out of three proposed options that were put forward to meet the £133k subsidy, 52.6% of respondents favoured applying an increase to all plot holders in proportion to what they currently pay.

Having listened to the consultation, the council has now set out plans to remove the subsidy in full by 2016/2017. This would be delivered in part through a revised lease with the allotment associations that will see a phased price increase introduced to plot holders from 2014/15.

As part of a new agreement, it is proposed that a notice period of 12 months is given on 29 September 2013 to allotments associations in order to terminate the existing lease. A new lease will then be drawn up which will be based on the associations receiving the same level of revenue they now receive by 2016/2017. This would be achieved by the implementation of the new pricing structure.

In order to keep these new price increases as low as possible for plot holders, the council has also identified further savings within the service.

Steps taken to reduce cost will include not filling a proposed Community Food Officer post, which will save approximately £29k and reducing the improvements budget by £24k. This will be replaced by targeted work that will focus on opportunities to prioritise existing allotment sites and grant/funding bids to improve new sites.

With one of the key concerns raised in the consultation that any potential rises may hit the vulnerable, the council has also announced its intention that concessions continue for those who are registered disabled, unemployed, a full time student or in receipt of pension credit. A new 20% concession is also being proposed for those who are in receipt of a state pension.

Councillor Mark Dobson, Leeds City Council’s executive member for the environment said:

“We are extremely fortunate to have fantastic allotments across our city, and I have been determined from day one to find a sensible and proportionate way forward regarding the management and pricing at our sites that meets both the needs of plot holders and the extremely difficult budgetary challenge the council currently faces.

“We have listened closely to the views that were offered through the public consultation, and with that in mind have put forward a proposal that would see incremental price rises introduced every year instead of one large blanket charge.

“Concessions will also continue for groups such as the disabled and unemployed, while we have targeted further savings in our service in order to lessen the subsidy and reduce the cost passed on to the allotment holders.

“This has been an extremely difficult process, and I would like to thank every plot holder and the allotment associations for the constructive manner in which they approached and contributed to the public consultation.”

Notes to editors:

Three options stated for consideration through the public consultation process were:

Option 1: review prices by applying an increase to all plot holders in proportion to what they currently pay to recover a £133k subsidy.

Option 2: review prices by applying an increase to plot holders who currently pay the full rate whilst retaining plot rental levels for those entitled to concessions to recover a £133k subsidy.

Option 3: review the management arrangements to seek a third party operator for allotment provision who would determine pricing arrangements and meet all costs associated with provision.

For more information, please see: http://democracy.leeds.gov.uk/documents/s101405/Allotments%20Cover%20Report%20v2%20230813.pdf

For media enquiries, please contact;
Colin Dickinson, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 39 51578
Email: colin.dickinson@leeds.gov.uk

Leeds City Council looks to work with those affected by ‘bedroom tax’

Leeds City Council is seeing the impact of welfare changes with over 6400 tenants already affected by under occupation since April 2013.

The council made sure that in the months leading up to the introduction of welfare reform changes, all affected tenants were contacted by letter in the first instance, and then followed up with face to face visits. This ran alongside a period of training for front line staff to ensure they are equipped to explain the changes and provide advice and guidance to affected tenants. This training has continued to ensure all staff are fully trained on all aspects of the welfare changes.

Currently the council is helping tenants who are under-occupying a property in a variety of ways. For example, it is promoting mutual exchange, whereby properties are swapped by a tenant who is overcrowded and another who is under-occupying. The council is running swap shops throughout the city to encourage affected tenants to find out more and register their interest. Already, this financial year there have been 171 swaps, 47 of which are welfare change related.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council said:

“We recognise the concerns raised by Hands of our Homes who made a deputation earlier this year to full council about the effects of the ‘bedroom tax’.

“We are working closely with tenants to try and help those affected by welfare changes, and more specifically the so called bedroom tax.

“The council wrote to all affected tenants last year to explain the changes and followed up with visits. The main focus of these visits was to ensure tenants understood how the changes would affect them and received sound advice and on-going support to make decisions about their future.

“The loss of housing benefit for council tenants affected by the bedroom tax is almost £4m per year. The funding for management and maintenance of our 58,000 council homes relies solely on income from rents, therefore any reduction in rental income will have a major impact on the council’s ability to maintain and invest in its stock and build new affordable homes. As a result, it is not viable for the council to consider writing off arrears resulting from the bedroom tax.”

Councillor Peter Gruen, Leeds City Council executive board member with responsibility for neighbourhoods, planning and support services said:

“We put a number of measures in place before welfare changes came into force to try and prepare the thousands of council tenants who would be affected by the bedroom tax.

“Already we have seen the impact of welfare reforms with over 3100 tenancies going into arrears since April 2013, all of which had clear accounts before this period. Alongside this we have had 1,144 applications for discretionary housing payment between April and June this year and have already committed over £285,000 to the 549 awards we have made.

“Earlier this year the council’s executive board approved changes to the rent arrears recovery procedures which gives tenants an opportunity to engage with the council at an earlier stage and take advantage of the advice and support that is on offer.

“In Leeds, as in many other cities across the UK there is a growing need for new council homes. Leeds is investing over £42million to increase the number of council homes across the city, which is the largest programme of its kind in a number of years. Phase 1 of the programme is in development which will deliver over 100 new council homes on three sites in the city with a view to start building early in 2014.”

Notes to editors:

A report will be taken to Leeds City Council’s executive board on Wednesday 4 September in response to a deputation made from Hands off our Homes about the impact of the Social Sector Size Criteria.


Ends

For media enquiries, please contact;
Cat Milburn, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 247 4450
Email: Catherine.milburn@leeds.gov.uk