Tackling waste with Revive Leeds

After 5 months I’ve just finished working at the Revive Leeds re-use shop in Seacroft, and I wanted to pay credit to the work of this organisation, operating as it does – in my view – in very challenging circumstances.

Back in 2011, Leeds City Council refurbished the Seacroft Tip – rebranding it the East Leeds Household Waste Sorting Site – and as part of the refurbishment included the shell of a dedicated re-use shop. It then let a contract to find a third sector organisation to operate the shop. In response to this, 3 local charities – SLATE, St Vincent’s and Emmaus – jointly created a dedicated trading company with social aims, Revive Leeds CIC, and made a successful bid. In 2016, Revive won a similar contract at the refurbished Kirkstall waste site. With Emmaus pulling out shortly after, Revive now operates the 2 shops at Seacroft and Kirkstall, with any trading surplus divided equally between SLATE and St Vincent’s.

At both Seacroft and Kirkstall there is a dedicated car park with a Donations Point where the general public can drop off items directly at the shop. A wide range of items are accepted – furniture, electrical items, clothes, bric a brac, books, CDs/DVDs and more:

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Donations Point at Seacroft

My role at Seacroft, however, has been to complement the Donations Point by intercepting any re-usable items brought to the adjoining waste site, then transporting them to the shop.  This has involved working closely with Council staff at the waste site, which became a key part of my job.

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Another load of re-usable items intercepted at the waste site ready to be transported to the shop

Items brought to the shop by these 2 methods are then assessed, with those deemed suitable for re-sale going on the shop floor, and the remaining items disposed of in the most suitable skip at the waste site.

It’s worth highlighting the many benefits that arise from Revive’s work:

  • It is estimated that Revive diverts from disposal over 500 tonnes of items brought to the 2 waste sites per annum
  • It provides a convenient service for members of the public wishing to donate items for re-use. Where else in Leeds can you park so close and drop off such a wide range of items?
  • Numerous volunteering and employment opportunities are created.
  • Goods are made available for sale to the public at low cost.
  • Revive divides its tradings surplus equally between 2 local charities.

I feel it is also worth highlighting that these benefits arise despite Revive operating in a particularly challenging environment. Firstly, it is an entirely commercial environment, with Revive seeking to realise the greatest possible value from its stock in order to maximise the surplus for the 2 charities. All other costs, including rent and other charges to the Council, plus its own staffing costs, have to be covered first.

Secondly, the volume of donations is simply overwhelming. You give the general public the chance to easily get rid of stuff and they will bring it to you. But there is only limited space for it all to go, only a limited number of staff to deal with it all. Although Revive advertises a list of items it can’t accept (eg printers), there is still an overriding expectation from the public that Revive will accept pretty much anything. Some of the most difficult moments I found working there were telling people that we couldn’t accept their item – whether it was in good condition or not – simply on the grounds that it wouldn’t sell in the shop. No one wants to buy a plastic Christmas Tree in July, for example.

Sadly, and rather ironically, one of the symptoms of all this is that a regrettably large amount of perfectly re-usable, but lower value, items have to be disposed of. But somewhere like Revive can only do so much to address society’s ills. Perhaps one of Revive’s major, but unrecognised, benefits is that it does at least make people think twice about what they’re getting rid of, and what new stuff they’re buying in the first place. Ultimately, the responsibility for the amount of household waste out there falls on us, the consumer (and thus producers of waste), rather than the organisations that have to deal with it.

I am grateful to Revive Leeds for the opportunity to have worked for them, and spare a thought for my ex-colleagues who in the most part retain their good humour in the face of constant pressure. They provide a valuable service to residents of Leeds – shop customers and donators of items alike. Best of luck to Revive for the future.

Friends of Meanwood Park

Last Saturday morning was the first meet-up of a new group – the Friends of Meanwood Park  – and it was great to go along and get stuck in to some serious legwork for a couple of hours for the sake of our local park.

This first session was advertised as a chance to “do various jobs including unblocking the mill race (muddy!) and remove invasive plants (muddy!)”, and it didn’t disappoint. The 15 or so of us that came along were soon busy in and around the duckpond in the American Garden. Before long we experienced the peculiar satisfaction that comes from unblocking stagnant water, by clearing out the silted-up outflow from the pond and releasing a rush of water down the mill race.  Listen carefully and there is now a faint, and soothing, tinkling sound as you walk over the bridge.

We then turned our attention to tackling the invasive species that had become prevalent around the pond – American Skunk Cabbage. That’s the yellow plant below:

Version 2You can find out more about this plant and why it needs removing here (there is also another blog on this site about invasive species in general). Needless to say, the various specimens dotted around the pond weren’t always conveniently located, and I had a particularly adventurous excursion at the end of a little promontory into the pond to get at the final few. But eventually we were satisfied that the pond was a skunk-cabbage-free zone and hopefully it will stay that way!

Meanwhile a few of the group concentrated on clearing holly around the stone footbridge over the beck, and there is now clear daylight where previously just a spiky passage. A bit of tidying up and that was your lot for the couple of hours, but very satisfying to be able to notice a real difference in just that short time. If you’re around the duckpond/American Garden in the next few weeks, I hope you agree.

Many thanks to the LCC Ranger Steve who gave the group a hand, giving us a timely reminder of some of the health and safety issues before we got stuck in, as well as providing the tools and, crucially, the tea and biscuits!

FOMP1st outing15July2017The next two meet-ups of the group are on Saturdays 19 August and 16 September, both from 10am to midday, from the car park at the end of Green Road. Wear suitable work clothes and boots but tools, wellies and gloves will be provided. If you like doing something practical and outdoors for your local park, and meeting some like-minded people, then I really recommend it.

Maria Sandle @ HEART

Those of us involved in the Save Tetley Field Campaign have been very grateful to Maria Sandle for writing and sharing her wonderful song “The Golden Field” last year. Maria has been playing in the local folk/acoustic scene for a number of years, but yesterday made her “solo debut” at the HEART Centre in Headingley – I was very pleased to go along.

Maria played around 20 songs in total – divided into 3 mini sets – combining her own songs with those of others including Leonard Cohen, Annie Lennox, Nancy Griffiths and Steve Earle. Two songs particularly stood out for me, which neatly sum up her performing style and choice of material – one well-known, the other less so.

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” is a classic song by Fairport Convention, originally sung by Sandy Denny, with the virtuoso Richard Thompson on guitar. Maria tackled following in these illustrious footsteps admirably – as a non-musician I’m pretty impressed by anyone who can sing or play; those that can do both even more so. Maria’s was a worthy cover, and rather fitting in what is Fairport’s 50th year.

Less well-known, but matching the environmental theme of Maria’s Tetley Field song, was her version of Maggie Holland’s “A Place Called England”. The lyrics are both striking and amusing and worthy of a further look. Anything about allotments and compost is alright by me, but this one digs a little deeper still, eg:

I saw town and I saw country, motorway and sink estate;
Rich man in his rolling acres, poor man still outside the gate;
Retail park and burger kingdom, prairie field and factory farm,
Run by men who think that England’s only a place to park their car.

and

For England is not flag or Empire, it is not money, it is not blood.
It’s limestone gorge and granite fell, it’s Wealden clay and Severn mud

Full lyrics here alongside a youtube performance by the writer. June Tabor’s version on youtube is also well worth a look.

So overall, a well-performed and engaging debut, in a relaxed and comfortable venue. Keep an eye out for future gigs by Maria!

DSC03464“Come spring a golden field bursting forth with buttercups, surrounded by majestic trees…”

Find out more about how you can help the Save Tetley Field Campaign.

 

Tetley Field in a nutshell

I did my first ever “blogging challenge” on Sunday, and good fun it was too. I’m aware there are a fair few other writing challenges out there on WordPress and other blog sites, so I thought I’d set myself one. Having blogged extensively about the 4-year long (and continuing) Tetley Field debacle, could I ask boil down the essence of it to the briefest chunk? So, here’s Tetley Field, in 150 words: 

“In 2013, Leeds City Council assessed Tetley Field as unsuitable for housing.

In 2015, to provide a funding mechanism for the redevelopment of Headingley Stadium, the Council overturned this assessment, and included Tetley Field in its Site Allocations Plan (SAP).

In 2016, this funding mechanism – based on the development of Green Belt sites – was proved to be legally flawed and collapsed.

In 2017, the Council found a new funding mechanism for the stadium redevelopment, through a private investment company.

However, they have not subsequently removed Tetley Field from the SAP.

So Tetley Field is currently allocated for housing even though it was originally assessed as unsuitable for housing, and despite the original reasoning for overturning this assessment now being invalid.

The SAP will be subject to an Examination in Public later in 2017. Local communities are preparing to make the strongest representations possible to remove Tetley Field from the SAP”.

 

And just to follow this up, here’s my attempt at condensing the whole thing down to a tweet (140 characters):

“Despite the new funding package for Headingley, and the withdrawal of the planning application, #tetleyfield remains allocated for housing”.

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A sorry tale indeed

Despite the withdrawal of Leeds Rugby’s planning application back in December, the Tetley Field saga drags on, and the threat of housing development next to Meanwood Park remains.

Back on 8 February, Leeds City Council’s Executive Board (following a request from its Development Plans Panel for legal clarification) declined to remove Tetley Field from the draft Site Allocations Plan (SAP). This despite vocal protest from the Leaders of both opposition parties. Very disappointingly, one of our own Councillors representing Meanwood, Cllr Charlwood (a member of the Executive Board), failed to comment in support of Tetley Field, despite around 500 residents of Moortown ward having objected to last year’s planning application.

The Council has justified its decision on the following grounds:

  1. The risk of delays to the SAP process.
  2. The need for Leeds to meet its overall housing target.
  3. The threat of legal challenge from Leeds Rugby.

These “justifications” can be reasonably challenged as follows:

  1. Of the hundreds of sites put forward in the SAP, Tetley Field is a unique case. From 2013-15 it was consistently assessed by Council officers as providing a Green Belt function, ie unsuitable for housing. This assessment was only changed as a direct consequence of Leeds Rugby’s offer to put the proceeds of any sale of the land with planning permission towards the redevelopment of Headingley Stadium. No other site in the SAP has been re-assessed on the basis of such an offer (indeed, only one other site has been re-assessed at all). Thus the removal of Tetley Field from the SAP would have no impact on the overall soundness of the SAP and the process of its adoption could continue without delay.
  2. The Tetley Field site is proposed for an allocation of just 30 to 40 properties, out of an overall target for Leeds of 66,000. It is preposterous to suggest that the removal of Tetley Field from the SAP would have any impact on the city’s ability to deliver its housing target.
  3. The threat of protest and legal challenge from the community is equally real.

More details on these points can be found in this letter from Weetwood Residents Association to Executive Board members, dated 4 February. The key point to remember is that back in May 2015 the Council changed its assessment of the site only as a result of the offer from Leeds Rugby – an overtly transparent attempt at “post- rationalisation”. In fact, the important Green Belt function that Tetley Field currently performs, protecting Meanwood Park and the wider Meanwood Valley Green Corridor, has been massively reiterated by the 1000+ Objections to the subsequent planning application.

While the future of Tetley Field hangs in the balance, an increasingly common question being asked is “what do people really want for Tetley Field in the future?” To answer this question, I have drafted a Vision Statement for Tetley Field, which is based on all the lengthy written Objections made to the planning application (which I, more fool me, took the trouble of reading last year). The clear and consistent message that emerges from the Objections is that people want the Field to remain essentially as it is – an open space for informal recreation, only with fully-legitimate public access (unlike the existing de facto access).

For this reason, my view is that the best way forward for both the Council and Leeds Rugby is for the land to be sold at recreational value to either the Council or a third party organisation dedicated to the public interest (such as Wade’s Charity, which already owns several pieces of land in Leeds for this purpose). The Meanwood Valley Green Corridor as it is now is essentially a series of linked open spaces bequeathed to the city by previous distinguished landowners (eg Beckett, Oates, Kitson-Clark). Adding Tetley Field to this list not only represents the best outcome for the community, but also the remaining opportunity for Leeds City Council and Leeds Rugby to emerge with any credit at all from this sorry tale.

If you are alarmed by the ongoing threat to Tetley Field, write to your Councillors and MP. And keep an eye on the Save Tetley Field Campaign website and Facebook page for more updates.

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The clear view into Tetley Field from Meanwood Park. The potential impact on the Park from development on Tetley Field is obvious (Photo: Rachael Munro-Fawcett).

A victory for community action

dsc03137Today brings the rather momentous news that the Tetley Field planning application has been withdrawn by the applicant!

It’s probably worth saying at the outset that this is by no means the end of this planning battle. Tetley Field, despite strong local objection, was earmarked for housing in the first draft of the Council’s Site Allocation Plan in 2015. The plan goes to Public Inquiry in 2017. If the Field is included in the final Plan, it would be removed from the Green Belt and the applicant may well be encouraged to re-apply. So there is much to be done in 2017 to uphold the important Green Belt function that Tetley Field performs.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to feel anything other than triumphant today. For 8 months, a powerful commercial applicant has promoted a planning application. They have submitted reams and reams of information, and employed countless consultants and other specialists to prepare it. They have done their level best to influence the planning process in their favour – not turning up to a Plans Panel meeting, concocting a spurious community benefits statement, influencing the media to their advantage and more. They have sought to get the Council on their side by promoting a connection between development in the Green Belt and another Council aspiration (retaining Test cricket).

And despite all this, for the moment, they have had to admit defeat. Why? Because a committed group of local residents mounted a powerful and effective campaign against them. In this campaign, the residents argued convincingly that the application was legally flawed. They also generated extensive local opposition, so that around 1500 people were able to communicate to the Council just how important Tetley Field is to them. Some members of the community made exceptional contributions, chalking up hundreds of hours of volunteer time by talking to people in Meanwood Park, putting up posters, dealing with the press, updating websites/social media and making inspiring artistic contributions (of which the following song, poem, photography and satirical clip are just the most noteworthy).

So while it’s not the end of the metaphorical war, it’s certainly a significant battle won. A real victory for local community action against powerful commercial interests. Many thanks indeed to everyone that contributed to the Save Tetley Field campaign in 2016, and hopefully it can count on your support in 2017. Season’s greetings!

And, it goes without saying, a pretty good conclusion to the Meanwood Rambler’s first year of blogging!Version 2

Tetley Field poem

Many thanks to the author for allowing her marvellous poem to be reproduced here:

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Tetley Field

planning app. ref. no. 16/02583/OT

 

Her Green Belt is being tightened

her gold buttercups lightweight

on the balance sheet.

 

She is accused of being a scrubber

unkempt, unfashionable

of being down and dirty.

 

But she is fecund, generous.

Her grass grows meadowed to the sun

she is brambled, oak strewn.

 

She succours field mice

thatched over in grassy clumps.

Butterflies suck at purpled thistles

 

and city dogs, blooded in her

strew small velvet corpses,

pick blackberries with delicate teeth.

 

She embraces autumn, celebrates

in a gold leaf makeover

red berried, luxuriant

 

but shawls herself in white

snow deep

for the solstice moon.

 

She practises temperature inversion

and we stand, puddled in her mud

our heads high on mist.

 

Síle Moriarty

© December 2016