To shock and outrage from the Conservatives, Leeds City Council has decided to press on with its plans to build 70,000 houses by 2028 – almost 5,000 of which are planned for the Wetherby area.
These proposals were cast in doubt in February when the opposition seized on Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showing the number of households in Leeds would rise by 44,500 from 2012 to 2028 – significantly lower than the housing numbers planned at LCC.
However, the council announced this week that it had analysed the data and decided to continue with existing plans to build 70,000 dwellings across the city region by 2028, with a commitment to reviewing plans within three years.
At a press conference on Tuesday, LCC’s executive member for planning, Coun Peter Gruen (Lab), said ‘Wetherby will be happy’ because the sooner the Core Strategy is in place the sooner developers will no longer be able to enter planning applications for greenfield sites in the Outer North East area.
Deputy chief planning officer Steve Speak said: “One of the clear consequences of the council deciding not to progress with its current plans is that it would leave a lot of sites in the Outer North East vulnerable to development.
“Another consideration is what would be the consequence of the council saying we need to change? We would need to publish further proposals and put them before the public.
“All of that would mean significant delay and we would need to put back the publication of our site allocations plan, and while we were doing that the council would be vulnerable to developers bringing plans forward for greenfield sites.”
But Wetherby Coun John Procter (Con) called the decision ‘a failed approach and a missed opportunity’, saying he would press the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark to ensure LCC adheres to national planning policy.
“Ministers were very clear when they said councils should use the latest information available to them when creating their plans, and the latest information shows a downturn in population growth and household formations,” he said.
“Despite the overwhelming evidence and the numerous community groups who have said these numbers are just too high, the Labour administration is ploughing ahead.
“The worst of all worlds and the real danger for our area is that volume house builders will simply go to the wealthiest areas and cherry pick the best sites and won’t want to build anywhere else.”
According to Mr Speak, the Core Strategy, which will be discussed at the council’s development plan panel next week, is recommended to go ahead as planned for several reasons.
He said the government projections are only a baseline figure that does not, for instance, incorporate anticipated job growth, affordable housing, or concealed households, where people are living with parents or in shared accommodation.
“Another component to this is that, as we know, projections change as they have done previously and the current projections are based on a period of limited growth,” he said.
“Further projections will be produced as the economy picks up and they will reflect that increase and will go up, and we are trying to plan for a period of 15 years and we need to bare that in mind.”
Wetherby councillors and Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke have previously identified Headley Fields in Bramham as a site that could accommodate up to 3,000 of the 4,943 houses to be built in the Wetherby area.
Work is continuing on that site and a separate report will be produced on it as part of the site allocations process, but Coun Gruen said the real question for the Outer North East is what sites could come up if the plans are not progressed.
He said: “The Headley Fields proposal is championed by Coun Procter and Mr Shelbrooke, but we want people to look at the sites not proposed for development.
“If we look at the Outer North East in the round, how many other proposals might we get if we didn’t take certain decisions?”
Mr Speak added: “If we put the plan on hold, and as part of that Headley would be on hold, other sites in that area must be more vulnerable.”
If the Core Strategy as it stands is agreed next week, the next stage of the process will be to identify which sites will take development right across the city region.
Coun Gruen said: “All political parties agree there is a housing crisis and all promise to build more each year, so I think our ambition is right and that includes infrastructure.”
But the leader of the Conservative Group at LCC, Coun Andrew Carter, reacted with anger at the decision to move ahead without any change, arguing that, as well as green belt land being placed in jeopardy, school places, road infrastructure, and wider public services are not sufficient to accommodate 70,000 new homes.
He said: “This is hugely disappointing news. Community groups and individuals across the city will feel they have been badly let down by the council’s Labour administration.
“They will rightly be worried about the consequences of this decision for school places, congested roads, and health care provision, and we again call for an immediate review of this unnecessary and unwanted 70,000 figure.”