'Save our shops' beg estate residents

By DAVID MARSH RESIDENTS on a Leeds estate are sending out an SOS to council bosses – Save Our Shop.

People on the Swarcliffe estate have already seen the closure of their local post office and now the parade of shops in Langbar Gardens is to lose its general store.

The shop will close in January prompting concerns that disabled and elderly people will face a hike to buy a newspaper or a bottle of milk.

More than 300 people have signed a petition calling on the council to save the shop.

One of the campaigners, Mrs Linda Englefield, of Stanks Lane North, said: "If you are elderly or infirm the nearest shop will be a bus ride away.

Regeneration

"Our petition has gained a lot of support because people feel strongly about this, they want these kind of facilities on their doorstep."

The Swarcliffe estate is earmarked for a 100m regeneration scheme which will include new shops.

The estate was chosen five years ago by the Government to be one of eight pathfinder housing Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes but contracts for the work to start have yet to be signed.

Mrs Margaret Matthewman, another campaigner, said replacement shops for the Langbar Gardens parade could be two or three years away and she added: "I thought that the Private Finance Initiative was supposed to help this area not make it more difficult for elderly residents."

A council spokesman said: "We are very close to reaching a conclusion in detailed final contract negotiations with our preferred partner, Yorkshire Transformations.

"This is one of eight similar schemes, called Pathfinders, launched by the government in late 1999.

"Only three of these have so far signed contracts with their preferred bidders – another indication of how intricate this stage is.

"The complex and groundbreaking nature of the Swarcliffe project – part of the estate is being remodelled, new roads put in and over 400 new homes built – means that the procurement process was expected to take longer than the two years which is usually required by a straightforward PFI project.

"There will be a period when the Langbar Gardens shopping parade will be without shops while new retail outlets are being built.

"However, the other two shopping parades on the estate will remain open throughout the regeneration period.

"Older or disabled members of the community have for many years been able to take advantage of the 'good neighbour' scheme which is run in the area.

"The scheme provides a shopping service for those who cannot get to the shops themselves.

"Residents have been made aware of this service, and anyone who is not currently registered on this scheme should call Phil Makin at St Gregory's Centre on 0113 2326910.

Buses

"We also know from our research and extensive consultation that many residents already take advantage of a regular bus service from the estate to the larger shopping centre at Cross Gates.

"We have negotiated very attractive compensation packages with each of the three shop owners, which have all been accepted. The Post Office had already taken the decision to close the branch on the Swarcliffe estate."

david.marsh@ypn.co.uk