Leeds flood-hit firms in land row with locals over riverside path cut-through

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Proposals for a riverside path to open up access to one of Leeds’s natural jewels - which also raised fears for the security of nearby businesses - have been sent back to the drawing board by plans chiefs.

The blueprint for a footpath along the River Aire, at land next to the historic St Ann’s Mill at Kirkstall, attracted a flurry of letters of support, but also several objections from local businesses who feared it would lead to security issues. This is because part of the path - its ‘North Spur’ - would cut through land occupied by the businesses, and would potentially require the removal of security gates installed at both ends.

The site of the business park and the mill - which sits mostly on council owned land - has already been targeted by vandals.

And many of the firms are already recovering from last year’s devastating Boxing Day flooding, with one suffering £100,000 of damage and only just getting back on its feet,

Printing firm boss Ian Park said he and others were not against the footpath, but “what we are strongly against is the security risk”.

He said security gates had been installed on the advice of police because without them, suspected vandals could not be prosecuted.

“My building was burnt down in an arson attack,” he said

“It’s an overwhelming concern for everybody on the estate.

“It is just the unrestricted access to St Ann’s Mill out of hours.”

Local resident Sam Meadley told Leeds council’s South and West Plans Panel that the focus of the proposal was “an opportunity to showcase a beautiful part of Kirkstall”.

“Rivers are special places, and it is important that the public are able to access the benefits of riverside living,” he told councillors.

He acknowledged the concerns of local firms but said opening up public access could actually be “an effective way to tackle anti-social behaviour” by encouraging civic pride and ownership.

The meeting heard that the path - championed by local Labour councillors Fiona Venner and John Illingworth - was a “long held aspiration for people in the community”.

Councillor Robert Finnigan questioned what the applicants were doing to “make sure [firms] aren’t put out of business” and are protected from arsonists and burglars.

The footpath has been proposed by a not for profit group campaigning for a large park in the Kirkstall Valley area, and they have secured Government funding for the work, which would include new footbridges and wheel and pushchair access.

The area is subject to flooding, and suffered damage from the deluge of Boxing Day 2015 which affected hundreds of Kirkstall traders.

James Kent, whose printing business suffered £100,000 of damage, said “common sense had prevailed” with the plans panel’s decision to defer the path scheme for further negotiations.

“Don’t get me wrong, I get the romantic vision of what they are trying to achieve but they are so far away from the reality,” he said,

“I don’t really see the need for the North Spur so why is it in there? If they took that out, everyone would be happy.”

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