Leeds: A tale of two cities?

“Leeds is a two-tier city – and south Leeds is being left behind.”

That was an off-the-cuff comment from one south Leeds resident as local councillors last night discussed a report which highlighted health issues in the area.

The report showed that in most parts of Beeston Hill, Holbeck, Cottingley, Hunslet, Middleton and Belle Isle have an average life expectancy of  between 74-77.5 years, much lower than more affluent parts of the city such as Horsforth, Alwoodley and Wetherby which average 82-83.6 years.

Members of the council’s inner south area committee heard that with the exception of  the Beeston’s Parkside and Cross Flatts areas all areas of inner south Leeds have higher mortality rates than that of Leeds overall, with a wide variety of issues affecting residents and their wellbeing. The council report said tackling cancers and lung disease and health inequalities were a priority and added:

“The health and wellbeing of the population within the inner south area committee boundaries is widely variable. Just over 20% of the population of inner south live in the 10% most deprived areas nationally and a similar proportion … live in the least deprived areas. This means that 56% of theLeeds deprived population live in this area. It indicates the size of the challenge, given the most deprived populations experience the highest levels of ill-health and death and also live unhealthy lifestyles.”

Headlines include:

  • City centre, Thwaite Gate and Hunslet has the highest premature death rates for men and women combined – for men this is over twice the Leeds average, with cancers the main cause of death for females and circulatory disease for men. High levels of smoking and obesity are also flagged up. The report says this is despite over 70% of the population being students and young people ‘living well’.
  • Middleton and the Westwoods have the highest prevalence of heart disease and obesity in the inner south area, and the second highest prevalence of smoking.
  • Holbeck has the highest levels in inner south of hospital admission related to or caused by alcohol
  • Belle Isle North has the highest recording of  lung disease in the area. Poverty and smoking were main factors. It has higher obesity rates than the rest of the city.
  • In Cottingley, the report suggests 77% of the population will suffer with future health problems and pints to higher than average problems with arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure, heart attacks and depression.
  • Beeston Hill has the highest level of diabetes and the premature death rate for cancers in women is higher than the Leeds average.

The full report can be found here under item 9. A copy of last night’s presentation is below:

[scribd id=81043684 key=key-28m33yz9okeg74gwze78 mode=list]

The need for better services, early treatment, better access to services, encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles and tackling issues such as unemployment, income, education and better quality housing were priorities raised at the meeting.

Councillors agreed there was a need to put local health at the heart of local government.

Councillor Geoff Driver said the impact of ‘horrendous’ vehicle exhaust fumes on people’s health ought to be looked at as a priority. He said:

“We have a major motorway [cutting through South Leeds] and generally high volumes of traffic and we need to have a look at how lung disease is related to all that. Motoring directly affects the residential areas of south Leeds.

“I do believe that smoking and eating the wrong type of food are serious problems that cause a lot of the statistics we have here, but environment is a major factor which doesn’t seem to be flagged up in this report. We need to be addressing these issues and not allowing more ‘skyways’ to cause problems. We need to look at the accumulative effect on residents.”

Meeting chairman councillor Angela Gabriel added:

“In Holbeck, the motorway is at the bottom of people’s streets. Nothing’s ever been done to screen the houses off – they are open to [the pollution].”

One resident said that the statistics would seem to back campaigner’s calls to reopen South Leeds Sports Centre, which closed in November 2010.

Beeston and Holbeck councillor Adam Ogilvie, who’s also the executive member for leisure, acknowledged the point and said:

“I had a conversation with [council leader] Keith Wakefield and said the figures reiterated the need for sports centres, and he agreed but we have a problem with funding and the other problem was that people weren’t using the facilities.”

Cllr Ogilvie added that the overall  issues need to be addressed by all council departments, including leisure and highways, and not just health. “It is all connected and we need to make sure we respond to that as a council as a whole.”

City and Hunslet councillor Elizabeth Nash criticised the government’s decision to axe free swimming for children and pensioners as part of national cost-saving measures. She also said having a mobile health unit which people are invited to come to could help in some cases.

Cllr Gabriel pointed to issues with the high number of unhealthy hot food takeaways onDewsbury Road. She said:

“There are over 30 such takeaways inDewsbury Roadalone which encourages people to eat cheaply and unhealthily. Planning legislation makes it very very hard for us [as a council] to refuse their applications.

“If we do take a stand an independent planning inspector would just approve it as he wouldn’t take into account health and the area in general. This is the sort of thing that needs addressing.”

Cllr Driver said more effort needed to be put into educating children and young families ‘if we’re going to break the cycle’.

The  inner south area committee meeting was held at Tenants Hall Enterprise Centre in Middleton.