As printed in the Wetherby News on Thursday 3rd August 2017.
President John F Kennedy once commented that leadership and learning are indispensable to each other, a statement that is as true today as it was when he delivered it to his Dallas audience in 1963.
So, as summer is a time not only for relaxation but also for reflection and I’ll be using this month to look back over my first year as a Leeds City Councillor and to learn from my experiences.
Since May 2016 I’ve been involved in over three hundred individual cases, held over 25 supermarket surgeries, attended over forty meetings of the nine local parish councils and organised numerous public meetings. In the Council Chamber I’ve voted in one hundred per cent of votes and spoken in numerous debates on international trade, dementia care, housing and education.
It is true to say that local government remains a slow-moving beast, with layers of bureaucracy worthy of a Yes Minister spin-off. But I have come to accept that the positive outcomes we’re able to deliver in our communities far outweigh the hours of frustrating meetings at Civic Hall.
The first major piece of work to land on my desk last spring was the on-going repair of the Linton Bridge. For nineteen months the communities of Collingham and Linton have been separated from one another whilst contractors have worked to repair damage in the wake of Storm Eva’s Boxing Day display.
Tucked away in the outer reaches of the local authority’s boundary, residents were, sadly, right to fear that the Council’s ruling executive would view Linton and Collingham as less of a priority. Despite both villages having endured endless months of traffic diversions and construction noise – as well as a significant economic hit to local businesses, the cabinet member in charge of the repair used a fleeting visit to Linton to declare “there hasn’t been a huge amount of disruption caused by the closure”.
Mercifully, the parish council and I have had a constructive working relationship with the project manager on site and over the period of construction I’ve made use of regular meetings to scrutinise the works schedule and the tendering processes to ensure we’ve had no further delays in the programme.
In just a few weeks’ time both villages will be reunified as the blockade comes down and Linton Bridge will once again become a thoroughfare for pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Elsewhere in the Harewood Ward communities have been hit hard by the City Council’s plan to build 70,000 new homes in Leeds; 5,000 of which have been earmarked on greenfield and greenbelt sites across our area.
Alongside local MP Alec Shelbrooke I opposed this plan and have urged the ruling administration to first build on brownfield land across Leeds before they go ahead with the unnecessary destruction of the greenbelt.
In Aberford and Barwick-in-Elmet I’ve been working closely with a newly formed residents’ action group to contest Council plans to build a new settlement of 1,800 dwellings on the historic Parlington Estate, a 3,000 acre estate in the greenbelt between Aberford and Garforth.
Building new houses has always been a contentious issue for local communities and nobody can deny a need to build more affordable homes, especially for young families wanting to get on the property ladder and those wishing to downsize in retirement, but those homes should be located where there is demand and with a focus on regenerating existing brownfield sites before removing land from the greenbelt. These are the arguments groups such as the Save Parlington Action Group are likely to be making at the upcoming public examination of the Council’s plan in October.
They say most people get ahead during the time that others waste, so this summer will provide a good opportunity to restock, learn lessons and prepare for the next few months leading to Leeds City Council elections in May 2018.