Recent, ‘confidential’ briefing meetings to local councillors by the planning department in Leeds City Council, has revealed the intentions of planners to defy the spirit of localism, in the Localism Bill and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Councillors have been warned to keep discussions on site allocation development plans in their wards confidential, despite the fact that Localism is about empowering local people to shape their own surroundings. Councillors have, in effect, been gagged, and prevented from informing the public what planners have in mind for communities in Aireborough and Horsforth, regarding the release of ‘greenbelt’ sites for yet more housing.
Leeds planners are not even sticking to their stated policy of proactively engaging with neighbourhood planning groups – approved in May 2012 as part of their site allocation process. And, they have also made it patently clear that they do not intend to revise down housing targets in the draft Local Development Plan; following the release of the 2011 Census population data. The 2011 data showed the population rise in Leeds, to be less than that calculated for Planners by the University of Leeds on the basis of 2001 Census data, and following a decade of unprecedented immigration.
This decision not to revise population data, and thus housing targets, is particularly odd. The success of many developer housing appeals against Council decisions, is because the Council does not have a supply of land for five years worth of housing targets. You would have thought that any chance to ease this situation, and lessen the amount of land needed, would be taken by the Council; especially when the cost of appeals to ratepayers is many thousands of pounds.
Wharfedale and Airedale Review Development (WARD) and other local neighbourhood planning groups, have asked, on several occasions, for clarification on housing target data for the local area and the evidence of its sustainability. WARD has also asked what the Council intends to do about proactive engagement on site allocations with local communities, besides the normal six week reactive consultation in Spring 2013 : they are still waiting. What they are constantly told is that ‘local people may formulate a neighbourhood development plan but they must comply with the housing targets determined by the Planners for their localities’. Which makes ‘secret’ discussions unacceptable, and flies in the face of the principles of Localism.
As a networking organisation WARD is calling on all communities to write to their MPs complaining about these actions by the Leeds planners. Dr David Ingham, WARD Chairman said, “ Leeds are maintaining, ‘in secrecy’, the old ‘top-down’ method of working, when bottom up’ is the way the Government is trying to strengthen democracy. The effects of past poor planning decisions on roads and local infrastructure are now becoming obvious and local people now want to take the opportunity afforded by Neighbourhood Development Plans to determine their own future”.