Housing allocation proposals for the outer north east area of Leeds, including Wetherby and Harewood, have been passed to executive board at Leeds City Council (LCC) this week. Reporter James Metcalf looks in depth at what this could mean for the area.
It was announced this week that LCC would look again at housing options in Wetherby and the surrounding area.
Headley Fields, he site that many hoped would prevent scattered development in villages like Boston Spa and Collingham, was called into question for its impact on the green belt.
This means other sites may now have to be found or reconsidered to take up the shortfall that would become apparent if Headley was removed from the council’s plans for the outer north east.
There is now concern at the doubt this has opened up, leaving a question mark over where the 4,943 houses are going to be built by 2028.
Below are some of the facts, figures, and concerns raised at the development plan panel this week.
PROPOSALS FOR OUR AREA
The outer north east area of Leeds has a Core Strategy housing target of 5,000 houses, according to the officers’ report to the development plan panel.
Sites for 1,093 of those houses have already been identified, leaving a residual target of 3,907.
LCC is proposing to allocate 3,850 houses to sites across the area, with a minor shortfall of 57 houses.
Of that number now proposed, 1,359 houses are on safeguarded land, also known as PAS sites (Protected Area of Search).
Wetherby Coun John Procter (Con) said: “Headley Fields is a far better proposal than littering other villages with housing and it represents, in this instance, a reasonable approach for the out north east.
“That said, there are some further issues to consider.
“It is highly inappropriate that we have allocated this level of PAS and this goes to the heart of what I have been saying.
“As far as the council is concerned, as soon as these sites are allocated that’s it forever, you can never change it back. That is not as I understand it and LCC is free to change these designations of land where it is greenfield, so I would like to see such large amounts of PAS sites in this area returned to the green belt.”
As Headley Fields was questioned at the meeting, and the Thorp Arch Estate plans for up to 2,000 houses on the brownfield land was raised as an alternative worth considering again, Coun Procter reiterated his reasons for calling on the estate to be used for general employment use only, and not housing.
“Coun Gruen knows this whole process was derailed when we were told we needed another 50 hectares of employment land, but it is all right, because there are 90 hectares in this area,” he said.
“With that in mind, my comment was that it would be madness to take out of the green belt for employment uses when there is land that is already there that exists for employment purposes.
“It makes sense that Thorp Arch Trading Estate should come forward, therefore helping out the rest of the city.”
Scholes resident, campaigner, and planning expert George Hall was present at the meeting and told the Wetherby News that, although he understands LCC has to have a plan, the number proposed are ‘aspirational, even unachievable’.
“This really does flag up to the major house builders that there will be land that is allocated, possibly excessively, allowing them to cherry pick,” he said.
“You have only to look at the statistics to see the potential which could be brought forward from green belt into PAS sites. That could be horrifying for us.
“If Headley Fields can be developed in a sustainable way and contribute and take pressure off villages, surely it is something that should be welcomed.” Raising again the overwhelming need for housing the development plan panel chair Coun Neil Walshaw (Lab) said: “We have a growing city and that is an important point to consider and there is something very worthwhile in creating somewhere for people to live and grow with their families. We often focus on the negative but there are positives, and as a council we can decide how, what, where, and when.”
Executive member for planning Coun Peter Gruen (Lab) added that this is not a meeting where final decisions are being made, but the start of the democratic process.
The infrastructure requirements needed to support the number of people expected to move into the Leeds region proved to be a major issue at the panel’s meeting.
Coun Procter said a previous estimate of over £400m to facilitate infrastructure was needed, yet there was no sign where this would come from.
He said: “It isn’t coming from LCC and it certainly isn’t coming from government. How can this allocations process claim to be sustainable?
“It isn’t, and an awful lot more work needs to be done in relation to the infrastructure requirements.
“It is a gaping hole in the plan and if we are not careful what we will see is developers and landowners coming forward picking off the rick pickings for themselves, delivering hardly anything in terms of infrastructure, and we need to be properly provided for.”
Coun Gruen said: “The infrastructure requirement is a real issue and we don’t have a fist full of dollars and the council simply can’t provide on that basis.
“But you would like to think that when Mr Osborne talks about the Northern Powerhouse he would give us a little bit of money with it.
“We want quality development and we will have to hold developers to account to invest properly in our communities. If anyone thinks they can put up thousands of houses without anything for local communities, I invite them to go elsewhere.”
Of the housing proposed for the outer north east area, which includes Wetherby, 1,359 houses could be allocated to safeguarded land, also known as PAS sites (Protected Area of Search).
This is 27 per cent of the area’s total amount of safeguarded land, and 21 per cent of the total number of PAS sites contributed by the whole Leeds district.
This is the highest percentage to the north of the city and the third highest percentage overall, after the outer south west (with 28 per cent contribution to the district’s total) and the outer south west (with 24 per cent). According to the head of forward planning at LCC David Feeney, about 6,600 dwellings, or 10 per cent of the total houses proposed, will be on safeguarded land.
He said: “That is incorporated within each of the housing areas, and that is existing PAS sites and new sites that have been removed from the green belt.”
Coun Procter said this is ‘highly inappropriate’ and asked for that land to be moved back into the green belt. The Conservative Group at Leeds also repeated their call for a review of the green belt and its use.
Coun Gruen said, however, that the Core Strategy was only accepted by a government inspector in November 2014, and as such any review would be ‘pathetic’.
He said: “An early review is not when the ink is hardly dry on the inspector’s report. That is pathetic and it isn’t going to happen. But an early review will happen when anything sturdy shows that we should do one.”
Before the development plan panel was called in, the Leeds Conservative Group held a press conference on their views of the housing proposals.
Group leader Coun Andrew Carter spoke again of his belief that the proposal to build 66,000 net houses, 70,000 gross, was based on out of date, faulty population figures.
He also said that the high number of houses was predicated on the incorrect assumption that of the 44,000 people coming to work in Leeds between now and 2028 would also live within the city boundary.
“At the current time there are 380,000 people working in Leeds and 120,000 of them live outside the boundary,” he said.
“To think that all the new people will live here is a complete fantasy, and it is these statistics that decided the strategy. They are flawed and incorrect.”
Calling the LCC proposals for housing into question, the Conservative Group decided to hold its position during the development plan panel, not voting at all.
It will, however, raise objections at full council this week, and again when the proposals reach executive board next month.
Coun Carter added: “I no longer, if I ever did, believe the Labour group have any intention of going for a lesser figure, and the result of that will be that the infrastructure of the city and the environment will be severely damaged by allowing developers to go for land.
“If the council begins the review we have called for now we can start before it is too late, saving what valuable green belt land that is not required for housing, and if they don’t safeguarded land will be extremely vulnerable.
“We are drawn to the inevitable conclusion that the Labour-controlled LCC wants a population explosion and it is prepared to sacrifice the city’s environment and wreck its infrastructure to achieve just that.”