Scholes council hits back at housing critics

NAWN 120507 Barwick in Elmet and Scholes. (120507AM2)
NAWN 120507 Barwick in Elmet and Scholes. (120507AM2)
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Parish councillors have hit back at critics who say they are not doing enough to fight plans which could turn Scholes into a sprawling suburb of Leeds.

Many villagers are furious that the village has been earmarked for massive housing schemes over the next ten years which could see around 3,500 new homes built in and around the hamlet which currently has a thousand properties.

An additional 850 new homes are proposed for the neighbouring village of Barwick.

“The number of new homes proposed for Scholes is astronomical and we are all on the same side,” Coun Ben Hogan, Chairman of Barwick and Scholes Parish Council, insisted at a lively meeting of the Parish Forum.

He was responding to a comment from Coun Gerry McDonough, who said: “Some people think we are not doing enough.”

Coun Matt Baker said councillors were being criticised by residents on social networking sites.

“Many people think the parish council want the houses to be built,” he said.

“None of us want all these houses but we have to accept there will be some as the chance of not getting any at all is very remote,” said Coun Hogan, adding: “A lot of people, especially young people, want affordable housing.”

A local resident said: “A lot of people think the Parish Council is not bothered and is not going to fight the plans. A statement needs to be sent out to inform local people.”

Rejecting criticism Coun Claire Hassell said: “It would be wonderful if we could say ‘No’ to new housing but we can’t. However, we will do our best to restrict development.”

She added it will be next year before the council is told what land is being released for housing and how many new homes might be built.

Councillors believe the best defence against huge numbers of new homes will be the Neighbourhood Development Plan they are now drawing up.

But the Government’s Localism Bill makes clear that these plans will not enable communities to stop new home builders in their tracks.

They will only allow local people to fight to limit the scale of new building and ensure that local services, such as transport, health and schools, are improved to match population growth.

“The Neighbourhood Development Plan is the only way we can have a real say,” added Coun Hassell.

“Without this the parish would be “at the mercy of Leeds (City Council) to do what they want,” she said.

Coun Hogan said there are 15,000 empty homes in Leeds, yet developers wanted planning approval to build new homes.

Coun Norma Fletcher said people “making assumptions” about the council’s stance on the issue should attend the public meetings being held; the next will be in the autumn.

Chris Hassell, Parish Clerk, said the council’s views had already been spelt out to local residents in a newsletter.

He added: “We are very conscious of our need to consult but we can’t force people to read what comes through their letterbox.”