Spofforth Hill housing scheme approved: the key issues

Spofforth Hill at harvest time. Picture by Stuart Brown. (S)
Spofforth Hill at harvest time. Picture by Stuart Brown. (S)

The decision to approve outline plans for Spofforth Hill has caused concern with campaigners and councillors. Reporter JAMES METCALF assesses the issues raised with the application and speaks to both sides about their views.

LOSS OF FARMLAND

An issue that has consistently raised a lot of concerns for campaigners since they first opposed the Spofforth Hill plan is the loss of farmland.

At the city plans panel discussing the application the deputy area planning officer Adam Ward said the site is mainly arable farmland classed as grade 3A agricultural land, which is good quality.

Mr Ward also said that at a previous meeting LCC considered the loss of agricultural land would not conflict with planning policy.

During his speaking time, resident and campaigner Jim Walton said: “The council should look to protect good land. There is food poverty and an unprecedented number of food banks.

“We are going to be 2million hectares short of food producing land by 2030 according to a study by the University of Cambridge.

“This is food producing land at 3A, that is high yield, which I would advise is 80 per cent.

“There is a problem with food poverty. Food prices have generally risen above the rate of general inflation. It is one of the factors of food poverty, otherwise we wouldn’t have an unprecedented number of food banks.

“Small as it might be, you set a precedent. If one council takes away agricultural land it would be death by 1,000 cuts. That, according to your own policy, is irreversible.

“Why do we need houses? Increasing population. And they are going to need to be fed. Food prices are not going to get any better and it starts here.”

The loss of food-producing land, which Mr Walton said had been in use in recent years, also caused concern for Morley Coun Robert Finnigan (Ind).

He spoke out against the loss of farmland and questioned planning officers.

He said: “The NPPF says you should look for less good land. I am not sure where in the NPPF it says if you can’t find any you should rip it up anyway. I’m trying to understand where that fits in.

In answer, planning policy officer Martin Elliot said: “The council last year completed 74 per cent of all development on brownfield land and 26 per cent on greenfield land and the core strategy does enshrine the need to provide an appropriate balance.

“The agricultural land has been considered in that balance, but because of the lack of other opportunities to develop and the need to build near the urban area it wouldn’t be inappropriate to remove this land.”

Coun Finnigan put a motion to refuse the application on the basis of an unacceptable loss of food-producing land, however this was lost.

He said: “A lot of you share the same concerns that we are getting more and more dependent on importers of food.

“I think it is important to maintain good, high quality food producing land.

“Do you think, considering the loss of this high quality agricultural land and the impact this has on food security, that this application is a price worth paying?”

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

There will be 49 affordable homes on the Spofforth Hill site - 15 per cent of the development which is set to contain up to 325 houses.

Though the number of affordable homes expected on the site was to be 35 per cent, an agreement reached between LCC and developers Bellway Homes takes 20 per cent away from the site.

This amount is due to be delivered to LCC as £8.5million which they could then spend on affordable housing elsewhere in the city.

When this announcement in the chief planning officer’s report was made Wetherby Coun John Procter (Con) said he was outraged that the town would be losing out.

At the city plans panel, Coun Procter said: “Having looked at the housing needs survey there is a dramatic need that says most people who aren’t within a certain income bracket can’t afford to live here.”

He said between 25 per cent and 33 per cent wouldn’t be able to access housing in Wetherby, and that to be able to afford an averaged-priced house in Wetherby you would need a single income of over £100,000 a year and a joint income of £130,000 a year.

A joint income of £40,000 is needed to buy a single bed flat, and the market rent in Wetherby is an average of £541 a month, according to Coun Procter.

He said: “Is there a need in Wetherby for affordable housing? I would have thought the answer to that is yes.”

Council officer Sue Morse said Wetherby is within the bottom five areas which residents have chosen, so it has a lower than average demand compared to the rest of the city. She explained that the 25 per cent to 33 percent of people had requested social housing in Wetherby. This did not mean, however, that they could not afford to live there.

“There is a need for affordable housing as there is across the city, but the point is the number of applications for social housing are proportionally less than other areas of the city,” she said.

LACK OF SCHOOL PROVISION

Another issue highlighted by objectors to the Spofforth Hill plans is the lack of school places available.

Though as part of the section 106 agreement developers Bellway Homes would provide an education contribution of £965,900 - that is £2,972 per dwelling - LCC planning department admits the schools are full and would need to be extended.

At the city plans panel, deputy area Adam Ward said children moving into the new development at Spofforth Hill, if it were to go ahead, would have their education provided at primary schools at Crossley Street, Deighton Gates, the Catholic school, and St James’.

He also said that Crossley Street and Deighton Gates were within walking distance of the site, which Wetherby Coun John Procter (Con) refuted, calling it a ‘bizarre idea’ to suggest people should walk such a long way.

Mr Ward said: “The primary schools are more or less at capacity. We have concluded that there are no reasons why Deighton Gates and Crossley Street could not be expanded and they are within walking distance of Spofforth Hill.”

Coun Procter said: “No conversation has taken place with the schools in question, one is right round the other side of Wetherby.

“And I am not sure it can be extended because of an agreement that the council has agreed to, which lets part of this land to a nursery provider.”

HIGHWAYS

Access and work to the roads around the Spofforth Hill site was raised as a particular issue.

Rat-running was highlighted as a potential problem through Linton with the number of added commuters from the development.

Highways officer Julia McLeod said: “The total numbers existing were very small that currently go through the actual housing estate area.

“There are no direct proposals to address the issue because we felt it was not a major issue that would need addressing, however as part of the negotiations we have a mitigation pot of money that might be required here or within the Wetherby area for any impact that is considered to have occurred if the development gets planning permission, and it is quite a substantial sum of money.

“We don’t foresee an issue, however on a development like this where there is a lot of comment and an issue might be exacerbated by added dwellings the developer is willing to offer the money and I think that is a reasonable way to go forward.”

Councillors also questioned the need to take down nine trees to put in a right turn at the entrance to the site. Miss McLeod said though it is not absolutely essential it is highly desirable when traffic flow exceeds 500, which is does in this instance.