Last Thursday evening was the annual town meeting in the town hall.
Going through all the things that have happened over the past 12 months I was really quite proud of all the things we’ve achieved.
I’ve said it many times before and certainly will again but I am very privileged to hold the position of Mayor of our wonderful town and I’m determined to make the most of my second and final year of office.
One of the biggest issues we need to address right away is which sites in our area will be allocated for the supply of housing over the next 15 to 20 years.
On Monday, Leeds City Council launched the public consultation for the site allocations process, the latest stage in a huge exercise that has been carried out across Leeds to identify the most suitable sites for housing across the city.
There is tremendous demand for housing across the UK. The average age of first-time buyers, if they don’t receive help from their parents, is pushing 40.
One report recently released by economists says that the average deposit for first time buyers will hit £100,000 by 2020 – an astronomical sum.
After a lot of work, the council’s planners determined that we need 70,000 new units built across Leeds by 2028.
The council has a process called the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) which is on ongoing process whereby sites can be submitted for consideration for development.
Anyone can submit a site for consideration, though in practice it is usually developers or landowners who nominate sites.
It has been a mammoth task to consider these sites and assess their suitability for development. The city was split into Housing Market Characteristic Areas (HMCAs), which, as the name says, are areas with similar environments.
The Wetherby and Harewood wards fall into the North East Outer HMCA, which has been allocated a target of 5,000 units.
The area runs from Wetherby in the north down to Bramham, Aberford and Scholes in the south and from Boston Spa and Clifford in the east all the way across to border with Cross Gates and Whinmoor in the west.
It is a huge area and one of the big battles we had to fight was to ensure that we weren’t forced to take more than our fair share of the 70,000 units that need to be identified across the city.
The task over the past months has been to look at the sites submitted as part of the SHLAA process to decide where we can put this new housing without destroying the rural feel of our area that we all cherish so much.
Developers love to build in green areas such as ours because they can charge a large amount for each house due to the area’s desirability.
We are fortunate that my colleague, Coun John Procter, has a long-standing and detailed knowledge of planning issues.
He used to work in the sector himself and, since becoming a councillor, has continued to specialise – he currently chairs the Council’s Scrutiny Board (Housing and Regeneration), which keeps an eye on the council’s policies in these areas.
Throughout the process, the Wetherby and Harewood ward councillors have done our best to ensure that the sites brought forward for consideration will have the smallest possible impact on local communities.
Ultimately, however, the final decision on the sites has rested with the council’s planning officers.
A couple of large sites, at the former Leeds University farm site at Headley Hall and proposals for a large number of houses on the Thorp Arch Trading Estate, will, if given the go-ahead, account for the bulk of the 5000 houses required. This means that the other sites selected in the HMCA can be smaller and less intrusive to people already living here.
This has been the guiding principle throughout this whole process: to ensure that our communities see the smallest possible impact.
Of course, some people will be affected, that is unavoidable but we have sought to mitigate this is as much as possible.
Now it’s time for you to have your say on these sites. They have been rated on a traffic light system – green, amber and red – as to their suitability.
Green sites are judged as definitely suitable for development, amber is possible and red as definitely unsuitable. Log onto www.leeds.gov.uk/siteallocations to see the sites and comment.
There is also an exhibition in Wetherby Town Hall on Saturday at which you can make views known.
It is crucial that as many people take part as possible during the two month consultation, it is almost certain that changes will be made as a result of the feedback received.
Not all the sites brought forward may be built on. It’s up to developers to acquire the land, submit planning applications, and then build.
Thanks to the government’s new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), developers will have to give a contribution to the local community for each house, based on its size.
This will be used to help mitigate the impact of new houses and their impact on the local area by helping to pay for new schools, leisure centres, roads, etc.
The Wetherby and Harewood councillors also funded, for two years, a localism officer to help parish and town councils get in place a Neighbourhood Plan, which will give local communities a real say in how they develop over the coming years.
There has to be more housing but we want to protect the unique character of each of our villages and towns as well as protecting our valuable green space.
To find out more, visit the website above, one of the many drop in sessions or drop me a line, I will be more than happy to answer any questions.
Most importantly, I would strongly urge you not to miss the chance to have your say over the future of your community.