Councillors on the Executive Board have approved a report from the Director of Communities, Housing and Environment to create a new parkland at the site of the former South Leeds Golf Club, off the Ring Road next to Middleton Park.
The 48 hectares of parkland is set to incorporate a 4.5 hectare memorial woodland that will be dedicated to the memory of those who have died of Covid-19, which at time of writing stands at 1,728 people in Leeds and 130,057 in England.
The memorial woodland will be created in partnership with the Leeds Hospital Charity with the charity meeting the cost of the creation and development of the memorial woodland. As well as the chance to remember those who have died the woodland will also be a place to reflect upon and appreciate the contribution of front line and key workers during the pandemic.
Alongside the memorial woodland is it planned that the £700k development will include a range of new habitats and features including a wetland, wildflower meadow, new paths, picnic areas, as well as educational and volunteering opportunities. The 9,000 trees that are expected to be planted will support the council’s pledge to plant 5.8 million trees over the next 25 years to contribute to the combating of the climate emergency.
The plans also include the creation of a new parking area near the memorial wood (subject to planning permission) and security measures to the site boundary to protect the parkland from flytipping and illegal occupation.
As previously reported the Council also plan to transfer 3 hectares of the site to Cockburn School to accommodate a new sports pitch. Former golf course area is shown in red with proposed Covid-19 memorial woodland in blue. The council hope that in expanding the Green Flag award winning Middleton Park there will be wider benefits for people in Leeds.
Councillor Salma Arif for Labour introduced the proposal during the Executive Board recognising that:
“Everyone has had a difficult eighteen months and it is important that we have a fitting memorial in recognition of friends and family that we have lost during the pandemic and also to appreciate the efforts of front line and key workers who continue to do us proud.
“This new 48-hectare park and memorial woodland… (will enhance) Middleton Park as a destination for both those paying their respects and to visitors in the area…and a greener space for residents to enjoy which obviously has mental and physical health benefits.”
During the discussion on the proposals, Leader of the Opposition Conservative Councillor Andrew Carter welcomed the proposal and expressed “the hope that we’ll see these sort of initiatives spread throughout the city”. Leader of the Liberal Democrats Group Councillor Stewart Golton, whilst confirming he was voting in favour, raised concerns that:
“The council…is committing a very substantial amount of money to what is effectively a tree planting scheme at a place in the city which already has really top-quality parkland and this would be added to it…and the amount of land which is being associated with the memorial woodland is one sixth from my estimation…of the golf course itself”.
Regarding the memorial he raised his concern that:
“It’s presupposing what the people of Leeds would like to see as their Covid memorial in this city and I would like to think that we would have a far wider engagement of the general population in Leeds to understand what they think might be an appropriate place of commemoration of people who have died and I would suggest that it probably would be somewhere a little bit more central… (and) so I would like to think that this isn’t just the council’s proposal for Covid memorial initiatives and that actually we will see something far more substantial in further papers.”
In response Councillor Arif commented that:
“The local public and the wider public will very much be consulted in how this goes forward”.
The timetable agreed at the Executive Board on 23 June 2021 aims to have a consultation completed by July 2021 with the opening of the Memorial Wood taking place in February 2022 and as part of the proposals Esther Wakeman, Chief Executive at Leeds Hospitals Charity has said:
“We expect an official launch in early autumn when we will be able to let people know how they can give in memory”.
The Friends of Middleton Park have attended a virtual meeting about the proposal and the Chair of Trustees Alan Shaw has told South Leeds Life that they “are very supportive” of the plans and “will be following closely” as the plans are “shared wider within the local community”.
South Leeds residents can sign up for email updates from the Leeds Hospitals Charity here: Memorial Woodland Project | Leeds Hospitals Charity. Leeds Hospitals Charity is the chosen charity for this year’s Lord Mayor’s Appeal.
This post was written by Becky Townesend
Photo L-R: Lord Mayor of Leeds Cllr Asghar Khan; Giles Fretwell, Events and Community Manager at Leeds Hospitals Charity; Cllr Salma Arif, Executive Member for Public Health and Active Lifestyles; Esther Wakeman, Chief Executive Leeds Hospitals Charity; Cllr James Lewis, Leader of Leeds City Council