Community split over plans to build fence through ancient Gledhow Valley Woods
Plans for a new fence in a strip of ancient woodland in north Leeds have divided a tight-knit community.
Ridgeway is a quiet street which backs onto Gledhow Valley Woods, a ribbon of woodland running about 1.5 km through a suburban area of north Leeds
Usually there is a warm, community-spirited feel among the long, winding street of 1930s semi-detached homes - help for neighbours during the first lockdown, a brass band in the street over summer and advent windows in the run up to Christmas.
But the bitter row over a proposed green 650m palisade fence to replace the existing decrepit iron fence at the back of the homes at Ridgeway has threatened to tear that apart.
At one stage, the community Whatsapp group was even suspended due to tensions bubbling over.
The area has a burglary problem and last year, money was earmarked for the fence, as well as extra security measures, from the Safer Streets Fund, overseen by the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner.
Supporters of the fence say it is necessary to protect homes in the crime hit area, while detractors claim the proposal is "intimidating and ugly and has no place in ancient woodland" - others feel that while the solution is not perfect, it is the best they can hope for.
A petition created to oppose the fence, signed by hundreds of people, calls for the plans to be suspended for more consultation, claiming: "This is a quick fix solution to tackling crime and there is no evidence that it will reduce crime or benefit the woods and surrounding community."
Caroline Thomas's home backs onto the woods and her property has been targeted by thieves several times, but she is opposed to the fence.
"They're pretty determined thieves and I just have serious doubts that this fence will stop them," she said. "And it will just be an ugly eyesore, for nothing."
Kerry Riley said she moved to the area 12 months ago knowing it had a high crime rate and said the fence would be "totally out of place".
"It's a bit like moving next to a pub and then complaining about the music," she said.
Pro-fence residents claim those against the fence are small in number, that they live at the end of the street which suffers less crime, and that some simply don't want to lose access from their back gardens straight onto the woods.
Katie Hamer, who has suffered one successful and two attempted burglaries, said: "We have experienced crime here for a long time.
"The woods offer the perfect access and escape for would-be intruders who have become more brazen.
"I now have a surrounding six foot fence and a dog. Neighbours report break-ins to houses, cars, garages, sheds and garages.
"Many of us have CCTV or recording doorbells but intruders are masked, hooded and simply disarm these."
Another resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the petition was not representative of the views of the street.
They added: "This type of fence is already used in Gledhow Valley Woods and some local residents have been trying to get the council to fix the current broken one for many years.
"It would be a shame if the project is stopped because of a vocal, well organised minority."
Another resident, who did not want to be named, said: "The issue appears to have polarised the community. The discussions have been pulled into the main (Whatsapp) group, it's become heated and unfortunately people have ended up leaving the other community groups because of it.
"It seems the group in opposition to the fence aren't listening to other residents, they don't want to hear views other than their own and are getting people to sign the petition who are nothing to do with Ridgeway or the woods."
A community meeting has been proposed by the Office of the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner to discuss the issue.
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