Headley Fields ‘in mix’ to solve Wetherby’s housing woes

Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke. (S)
Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke. (S)

A site hailed as the solution to Wetherby’s housing woes is now ‘in the mix’ at Leeds City Council, according to MP Alec Shelbrooke.

Headley Fields in Bramham, highlighted by Conservative councillors and Mr Shelbrooke previously as having the capacity to take up to 3,000 of the 4,943 houses planned for the outer north-east area, was thrown into doubt in January and the plans were sent for further work.

Speaking to the Wetherby News for the first time since his re-election this month, Mr Shelbrooke revealed the site is now part of the allocations process at LCC and commended this decision as a success for villages around Wetherby that will keep their identity.

“I think people have recognised that if LCC had its way, building between the villages, you would have one continuous development from Scarcroft into Wetherby, through Boston Spa, Clifford, and Bramham, all linked together and they would lose their identity,” he said. “Headley allows for that to be maintained but ensures we can meet the numbers the council has pushed through – numbers I disagree with and reject.

“It would also allow for infrastructure – schools, doctor’s surgeries, pubs, shops – all the things that would be put under immense pressure if the villages doubled in size.

“I don’t think my constituents want that and, having taken 50 per dent of the vote in Bramham previously, I took almost 70 per cent this time.

“I would call that a mandate which shows the public agrees with me that if we have to take these houses they have got to be done in a way that doesn’t affect the existing infrastructure and they have to be sustainable.”

Mr Shelbrooke added that the Labour administration at LCC was ‘playing politics’ with housing around Wetherby but, after the election, ‘having lost the arguments’, plans for Headley Fields are part of the equation as the council aims to allocate sites for the 70,000 houses it intends to build by 2028. LCC was asked to comment but did not provide one.

In the interview Mr Shelbrooke also spoke about the responsibilities he will have in his new role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Shifting from the foreign office, he will be part of the team overseeing £12bn worth of cuts to welfare and said, due his experience in the area, Prime Minister David Cameron asked him personally to fill the position.

Spending two years researching how benefits could best be used, he submitted a 50,000-word document earlier this year.

He said: “The department will be working as a team and, from conversations I have had so far, it is about making sure that abuses of the system are cracked down on and that it pays to be in work.

“The reforms in welfare are about focusing on the most effective way to keep people out of poverty and get them into work. Fundamentally it must always be better in work.

“There is nothing compassionate about trapping people on benefits. People want to be supported in the best way to get back in work, and when the Labour Party was in power they abused the benefits system and eventually the public rejected that and put us in a majority government now, and that is a clear mandate.

“It is a challenge but let’s not kid ourselves, it can’t be right that during the boom years the housing benefit doubled and benefits increased at double the rate of wages. That didn’t help people, that pushed them into a reliance on benefits that many people didn’t want to be on.

“This is about making sure people can have a safety blanket that doesn’t trap them. Alongside that it is about growing the economy, because you can’t do any of those things unless you have a strong economy.”

Supporting HS2 because he believes it will help to grow businesses in Leeds and benefit Wetherby, putting an end to what he called the ‘national disgrace’ of unpaid internships to make sure people are being paid fairly, and ensuring there are ‘opportunities for everybody who has the ability to do the job’ - Mr Shelbrooke outlined these as key aims which he wants to turn into a ‘record of action’.

“The aim of the term is to turn the plan into a record of action,” he said.

“It is a very clear six point plan we set out and we have got a vision and ideas about how that is going to be achieved.

“It is going to be very hard to deliver these results but a campaign needs to be led. Quite frankly, I think we face a battle from all sides of the political divide and there are people in my own party who don’t agree with my plans for internships.

“To prove that this is the right way forward I want to deliver results. There is no point in standing up saying how people report it isn’t true, we have got to get out there and deliver results and that is about making it quite clear that we are leading the campaign.”