Yorkshire council under fire for 'tax on fresh air' as it looks to charge for parking at Leeds beauty spots Golden Acre Park and Otley Chevin
Leeds City Council has announced plans to charge for parking at two of its parks - just months after the suggestion was first thrown out amid a deluge of opposition and fury.
Stunned comments online now tally close to a thousand as residents question the reasoning behind proposals dubbed "absurd" and a "tax on enjoyment".
The authority's own green spaces strategy outlines the benefits of a trip to its parks - arguing a single visit delivers health and wellbeing benefits totalling £21 each time. Now it says it must be "honest" about the choices it faces, as hefty budget overspends of more than £30m loom unless significant action is taken.
"Unless the financial outlook of the council changes, a decision not to progress with these proposals would make it harder to maintain and improve the city’s parks and green spaces in the long-term," a spokesperson said, stressing that no final decision has yet been made.
"We are proud of Leeds’ green spaces and want to ensure that they continue to be places that promote and enable physical activity, improve mental wellbeing, and provide access to nature."
Plans to charge for parking at around 30 Leeds parks were first proposed last year, but were blown out of the water amid a rising tide of angry responses. Leeds City Council - insisting these initial plans were ditched because "alternative savings" were found - has declined to share the findings from this first public response.
Instead, it said the renewed plans - now featuring two leafy parks in a suburb and quaint market town to the North West of the city - would help plug its maintenance bill.
Fees would be "modest" and "reasonable", and to be formed by consultation responses. Funds would be ringfenced for green spaces, it insisted, relieving the financial pressure on other council services.
Residents and dog walkers in Otley and Bramhope have shared their incredulity at the announcement. "We are supposed to be encouraging people to get out for fresh air and exercise, not putting them off," said one, while another argued that access to the outdoors should not be restricted. A third said it was "disgusting" to charge people for visiting nature.
Leeds City Council said Otley's Chevin and Bramhope's Golden Acre were chosen because they are in "particular need" of work, while their location means "charges would be unlikely to displace parking into residential areas".
This is despite uproar in 2020 when overspill on Otley Chevin saw police called in to intervene amid reports of "dangerous" roadside parking. But Leeds City Council said in a statement that if proposals were to create parking problems on nearby roads it would "stand ready" to swiftly take action.
The area is covered by three wards, whose councillors have all condemned the plan. Adel and Wharfedale's Coun Barry Anderson also queried how any such patrols, appeals and enforcements would actually be funded.