Leeds Covid memorial woodland plans approved for old South Leeds Golf Course in Middleton

Councillors have given the green light to create a brand new Covid-19 memorial woodland on the site of a former golf course in South Leeds.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 4:45 am

Documents were released this month outlining plans for the 99-acre former South Leeds Golf Course site in Middleton, claiming brand new parkland would include a memorial wood to help remember those who died as a result of the virus.

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A report by Leeds City Council officers revealed the wider site could also include school sports facilities.

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Lord Mayor Coun Asghar Khan joins Leeds Hospital Charity events community manager Giles Fretwell, charity chief executive Esther Wakeman, Coun Salma Arif and council leader James Lewis at the proposed site for the memorial woodland. Picture: Gerard Binks

A senior opposition councillor criticised the move earlier in the week, calling the memorial a ‘fig leaf’ to deflect from criticism of the scheme, adding that such a memorial should instead be in the city centre.

According to council officers, the memorial woodland would cover 4.5 hectares and contain 9,000 trees, a wild flower meadow and wetland habitat. Part of the remaining 44 hectares of the former golf course could also be used to accommodate sports facilities for nearby Cockburn School.

Presenting the plans to Leeds City Council’s executive board, Coun Salma Arif said: “I am genuinely delighted to bring this forward. Everyone has had a difficult 18 months and it is important we have a fitting memorial to remember all friends and family that we have lost during the pandemic.

“We also need to appreciate the efforts of frontline and key workers who continue to do us proud.”

She added it will also “enhance” nearby Middleton Park as a destination.

Conservatives group leader Coun Andrew Carter welcomed the proposal, adding: “I hope that we will see these sort of initiatives spread throughout the city.”

However, Coun Stewart Golton, building on his comments earlier this week, was less than happy with the plans.

He said: “What I object to is that the council is committing a very substantial amount of money to what is effectively a tree-planting scheme in a place that has really top quality parkland.

“Middleton Park is an exemplar recreational space for people. This is an exercise in the council acquiring land to plant trees.

“This is at a time when the council has community parks that are having to suffer cutbacks. A lot of park staff have been attracted to better wages at Wakefield Council.

“I question the prominence of the memorial woodland in the presentation of this item – it is pre-supposing what the people of Leeds would like to see as their Covid memorial.

“I would suggest it would be somewhere a little bit more central.”

Coun Arif responded: “The local and wider public will be very much consulted in the way this goes forward. Those views will be taken into account.”

South Leeds Golf Club shut down in November 2019, at which point the administrators were called in. The land, which had been leased by the club, was given back to the council in March 2020.

The report warned that the site was not currently being managed and could become a magnet for fly tipping and illegal occupation if something was not done soon.

Board members approved plans to start a consultation on the new parkland and to put £700,000 towards creating the memorial woodland.

It is hoped work can start on the new woodland later this year, for an opening in February 2022.