Why we must say no to Cockburn School’s land grab

It was a very sad day last year when South Leeds Golf Club announced it was to close. Although I have never played golf I walked the course with my dog for many years. As a responsible dog owner I was welcomed by the greenkeeper with a nod and hello on a morning before the golfers got started with their game. I appreciated the opportunity to walk there. There are spectacular views over the city.

The Club opened in 1906 and was re-designed in 1923 by Dr Alister Mackenzie, a world famous Golf Course designer. Undulating greens were part of his signature style. He wrote that the chief object was to imitate the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself. His designs were notable for their sensitivity to the nature of the original site. I guess considering information gleaned from Ken Burton’s recent piece regarding coal mining in Beeston, he would have had to redesign a landscape scarred by pits. He certainly achieved creating something really lovely.

Sometimes I would walk on the golf course in very heavy rain to avoid players and my dog would bounce down the green to land in the enormous puddles. As children we would rush to the golf course if there was snow to sink ourselves into the deep drifts. As an adult I took my own children to play in the snow with their sledge. So much fun whizzing down the hills and slopes.

I wish something could have been done to save South Leeds Golf Club, but unfortunately I only knew about their troubles after it was too late. Local schools could have benefited so much from teaching this sport to children. After the closure local people were worried about the golf course, but we were delighted to hear from the council in March 2020 that it would be incorporated into Middleton Park and rewilded.

Rewilding golf courses has been quite a thing throughout the UK recently and the environment and wildlife have reaped the benefits.

During lockdown the rewilded land has been very popular for locals walking for exercise, walking dogs, picnicking and meeting friends. It has been a peaceful retreat too from the many bikes that now crash about in Beeston Wood. It has been invaluable for those who would struggle up the hill or feel uncomfortable walking in the darker environs of the wood. It has been a fantastic addition to Middleton Park.

As we all know easy access to green space is vital for mental health too. Walking there a week ago with my daughter we took lots of photos as it was just so beautiful. There are many mature trees on the land and if you walk here regularly you will also know that there are lots of moles! Moles are not a protected species but as British wildlife goes moles are definitely one of the most interesting and mysterious mammals we have. You have to step over lots of moles hills. Apparently their underground work improves soil health and can increase plant diversity. The network of tunnels they dig can improve soil drainage by preventing too much water building up on the surface.

Until last week I was delighted that the moles’ habitat was safe from development and the moles were free to run amok, as before they must have been a real headache for the golf club. This grassland near the woods provides an ideal habitat for them.

So it was a shock to hear this week that Cockburn School would be making a land grab so that they could build a car park. The new car park would actually be built on their own site but 7.4 acres of the rewilded land would be levelled to provide a hard PE court and an additional football pitch for the school.

In fact there is no need for a new car park at the school because staff should be encouraged to cycle, take public transport or car share. It has just been announced that a new rail station will be built at the White Rose Centre which is only a 20 minute walk away or very short bus ride. New cycle paths are being extended up Dewsbury Road too. It seems the school has forgotten about the Climate Emergency.

If the school still feels it prefers a car park on its site rather than a PE court, they should consider making use of John Charles Centre for Sport. Do they know that it is only a 15 minute walk to this sports facility through the woods from the school?

A hard sports area on the rewilded land will block access to the soil beneath for burrowing insects such as solitary bees and the ground above to soil dwellers such as worms which will be starved of food beneath it. Moles eat earthworms and so they will also be starved of food and their grassland habitat destroyed.

Cockburn School already has a 3G sports pitch. Do they really need another? It is not clear whether the proposed new football pitch would be artificial grass or real grass. Artificial grass pushes animals out of their natural habitats again and there is also concern that artificial grass contains cancer causing chemicals. Sports players and children have been advised to limit their exposure to 3G pitches. The EU is investigating their use.

To achieve all these plans the school also needs to take ownership of a historic cobbled path. This little lane provides a corridor for wildlife and provides the public with a less challenging route in and out of the woods. The school tried to alter this path before but their plans were rightly turned down at the time. I do not feel this path is safe if it becomes the private property of this school behind an electric gate.

Their bulldozer plans also require the removal of over 30 mature trees. Do they actually mean more than 30? It is interesting to note how they are intent on levelling the undulating land and describe the feat before them a challenge. Dr Alistair Mackenzie’s plans were notable for their sensitivity to the nature of the original site. I think we can best describe Cockburn’s plans in contrast as insensitive as you can possibly get!


This post was written by SG (full name supplied)

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21 Replies to “Why we must say no to Cockburn School’s land grab”

  1. The car park will hopefully take cars off Gipsy Lane if the council utilise double yellow lines.
    Also designating Gipsy Lane as a ‘school street’ would get pupils walking or cycling.
    The football pitch I agree is not required.

    1. What? Leeds city council want you to get on your bike or walk. Teachers should be setting an example and not using cars. Its going against the principle to make roads narrower to put in a cycle lane then build a bigger car park in a school.

  2. I agree with SG and am glad she has brought this to our attention,we need green space and scholars should be encouraged to use the Sports Centre on its doorstep .

  3. This is a total disregard to wildlife & nature, don’t you think man has taken enough away from our wildlife, by building on any piece of land, what will this world be like with no wildlife/ nature, because in time, this is what will happen, iam totally & utterly disgusted, the school already has an all weather pitch with bright floodlights shining not just on the all weather pitch, but also on the houses down the side of that.

    1. True and if truth be known they will then say there is no need to build the Middleton school. The land is there waiting. But our sneaky council have probably already earmarked it for something else. Forcing kids to catch busses or get lifts instead of walking. So wrong of them for so many reasons

  4. It is totally wrong that Cockburn School should even contemplate taking over a square yard never mind 7.4 ACRES of this green field site. If they want to build a bigger car park, for whatever reason, then surely they should do it within the existing campus and not steal land that is the property of the residents of Leeds. These plans will deprive people access to a wonderful area of South Leeds and, if SG is correct, limit access by disabled people to the woodlands which have already been invaded enough by cyclists and other types of vehicles. Also the fact that the school is enclosing an ancient/historic cobbled path will prevent access to it and may well, knowing how schools do not adhere to planning and historical rules, lead to its complete destruction! These plans should be opposed by all right minded people and when it comes to the planning authority should be thrown out unceremoniously!

    1. Absolutely everything you have put here is how I feel! We bought our house here for the proximity to the parkland and were thrilled to know it would be rewilded. In these times of knowing how important green space and trees are to mental wellbeing I can’t believe the school think they can just come in and landgrab over 7 acres, to the detriment of all of the residents who use it.
      The plan to remove 30 mature trees makes me feel sick. What of the woodpeckers, squirrels and others who make this ancient area their home?

  5. There are lots of questions that need answering about this proposal. 1) Who is driving this? Is it the Council or the trustees / governors / management of the school… or is it both? From the outside it appears that the school thinks it can do just about anything it wants, let’s hope that the Council does not just go along with it. 2) If the need for extra school places is temporary what is going to happen to the former golf club land the school is taking / being given which is public land when it is no longer needed? 3) what is the justification for the Council seemingly giving away land to an Academy Trust? 4) How, if at all, is the school going to replace the sports facilities it is losing in the interim before the second phase comes into being, or indeed if the second phase does not get planning permission? 5) what alternative proposals were looked into for providing the extra school places needed which do not need such a big loss of public space? There are so many questions and currently not many answers it seems.

  6. The closure of the golf course has brought about a whole new dimension to Middleton woods , i recently took a friend there who has never seen Middleton woods and was astounded by this little piece of stunning woodland in the middle of several urban areas . To just build a car park is going back to the thinking of the 60/70 s . And if it goes anywhere near like the area around South Leeds Academy ( which is just littered with plastic bottles thrown away by the pupils ) well we are slowly destroying an environment that we should be celebrating and very proud of . Please don’t destroy areas of Middleton Woods . It truly is an historic gem in the heart of South Leeds. We should be thinking preservation not more urbanisation.

  7. Why is everyone so bothered about this. This has been public knowledge for a while even before the course was closed. I didn’t hear many people kicking up a fuss about Middleton golf club and the mess they’ve made of that and the roads around it. If people are so bothered about this why didn’t they help to try and safe the golf course? End of the day there aren’t enough child places in schools and now with social distancing this is only going to get worse.

    1. Why are there not enough places …. Oh yes thats right they shut Middleton school down instead of bringing it up to standard. What is that land earmarked for because if they make this school bigger (which we all know the larger a school is the bigger any problems are and more impersonal they are) The council will say they dont need the middleton school.

  8. Middleton Woods and the South Leeds Golf Club area is a gem (except for the bikers). The council need to retain it and not let it be eaten away bit by bit. However, knowing the way Leeds City Council often operates, if it is planning to allow this car park to go ahead, despite local objections it will manipulate the situation to meet its own ends.

  9. Mr. Hurley makes a number of unsubstantiated points in his post. The fact that this gentleman was once employed in a subsidiary capacity at Cockburn, means that his comments should be treated in the same way that a wagonload of stinking fish would be – well-avoided. He has been asked on previous occasions to divulge the workings of his supposed group, who is on the committee, which of his members are local and which of them have or had links to Cockburn in a desire for transparency. The result has always been a resounding silence

  10. The wildlife and woodland needs saving and using by local schools. There is a fantastic sports centre within walking distance (so we are constantly told) at John Charles Centre so why shouldn’t they use that.

  11. The school dose not need enlarging build another one somewhere else keep it green encourage wild life and I thought the council have no money amazing were they can find it on a school and not jobs for the area

  12. UPDATE… Like many others I wrote to all the local councillors including Paul Wray from the Hunslet and riverside because even though this is not his area the people in his area (The strip of Beeston they have given him) Use this woodland. Only one local councillor bothered to reply. Thank you Paul Wray. even though its not your area BUT… He said. “I understands your concerns but I believe this has already been approved” Has it???

    1. Linda, as we reported the funding for the project was approved by the Council’s Executive Board, but we understand the decision will be called in and will be reviewed by a Scrutiny Board (made up of back bench Councillors). Separate to that, the scheme requires planning permission which has not yet been applied for.

  13. I agree with the comments about the takeover of golf course land by Cockburn being unnecessary and a misuse of a green environment, but experience shows that what Cockburn wants Cockburn gets, regardless of objections by local residents. Like many residents in the area near the school, I was attracted to live here almost 40 years ago (when it was Parkside School before Cockburn moved here) by the beautiful view across greenery to woods, which has been gradually degraded by developments and expansions to the school, including the current 3G pitch(which also entailed removing some trees). To think that more expansion and developments will further detract from this outlook is not something that fills me with delight! Local residents bordering the school field especially have to live with the effects of such developments 24/7/365, whereas the school administration which want this can go away from the area after school each day, at weekends and during summer holidays, and do not have the results of their expansion spoiling their own home outlook. Additional sports pitches will add to the noise/traffic already experienced by residents when the current 3G pitch is used during evenings and at weekends, but from previous experience this apparently is not an issue when planning is being considered. I look forward to planning notification being announced(?) to residents for their official response to further growth by Cockburn affecting the area!

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