Covid-19 memorial woodland to be built on former golf course to help Yorkshire remember those who died in pandemic

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.

Esther Wakeman, CEO of Leeds Hospitals Charity, at the site of the proposed Covid Memorial Woodland.
Esther Wakeman, CEO of Leeds Hospitals Charity, at the site of the proposed Covid Memorial Woodland.

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.

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

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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, Councillor 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.

Leader of the council’s Conservatives group Councillor Andrew Carter welcomed the proposal, adding: “I hope that we will see these sort of initiatives spread throughout the city.”

However, Councillor 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.

Following the meeting, leader of Leeds City Council Councillor James Lewis (Lab) said: “This memorial wood, which will be a beautiful asset to future generations, not only creates a fitting tribute to those who have sadly lost their lives to Covid-19 but it also supports a healthy environment.

“We hope it provides a destination for quiet reflection for the residents of Leeds to visit and remember their loved ones or appreciate the work of front line and key workers.

“We also want residents to enjoy the new recreation opportunities and for the park to provide a resource to the local community, such as the nearby school.”

Esther Wakeman, Chief Executive at Leeds Hospitals Charity, said: “Since the pandemic began, we have wanted to create a lasting memorial for those who sadly died through COVID 19.

“We expect an official launch in early autumn when we will be able to let people know how they can give in memory.”

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