Disaster for Leeds Residents as Government Inspector finds 70,000 Dwellings Acceptable

Despite strong lobbying by the WARD organisation and others at the LDF Hearing Sessions in October 2013 the Government Planning Inspector, Anthony Thickett, has now given his support for the Leeds Core Strategy housing target of 70,000 which need to be built between now and 2028.  The only note of optimism in his response is that he did not support raising the target to 90,000 as was being argued by developers and their agents at the Hearing Sessions.

Needless to say, Wharfedale & Airedale Review Development, think this target is still far too high and we are at a complete loss to understand this decision as we presented statistics taken from the 2011 Census figures which clearly demonstrate that Leeds, despite having the lowest population increase of any major UK city – 35,900 since 2001, a total of 5% – has proposed the highest new build figure of all the other major cities in England who have had much larger population increases.  Why should this be?  For instance Birmingham, with a population increase of 88,000 since 2001, equivalent to 9%, is only proposing a new build figure of 50,000 – 65,000.  Leicester, with a population increase of 47,100 since 2001, equivalent to 16.7%, is proposing a new build figure of 21,335 and this figure has already been accepted as reasonable by a government planning inspector.  When we attempted to draw these comparisons at the Hearing Sessions, Inspector Thickett ruled us ‘out of order’ and said ‘The comparisons are not relevant’.  He even ruled Stuart Andrew MP ‘out of order’ when he attempted to draw a comparison between Leeds and Birmingham.

So, what is the statistical basis for the Leeds Core Strategy figure of 70,000?  The basis of Leeds’ evidence for these numbers is founded on a SHMAA (Strategic Housing Market Availability Assessment) produced by GVA, a firm of commercial property consultants, supported by statistical analysis of data by Edge Analytics.  A number of scenarios were constructed using migration led and employment led hypotheses.  However, these are all they are – hypothetical.  The Leeds figures are based on hypothetical predictions and modelling relating to two important variables:  population increase and economic growth.  These two variables are impossible to predict with certainty and our contention is the Census statistics is the only hard data available and therefore should be given the most weight.  It is our understanding that scenario 11 was based on projections from statistics obtained from the 2001 and 2011 Censuses and is therefore the most accurate.  This gives a housing target of 48,528 which is still a large increase in the number of new dwellings, giving an average of 3,235 per year, and is clearly more achievable than the higher targets.  The current target, now approved by the Inspector, leaves the Council with an annual target of 4,375 up to 2028.  Leeds has never achieved that number of new builds even at the peak of the building boom.

What must be remembered is that the higher the housing target, the higher the five year land supply must be and, therefore, this means that greenbelt land will have to be allocated and for many parts of the City, including Aireborough, that will be an absolute disaster!  It also means that inner city brownfield sites are far less likely to be developed for housing.  Obviously this will impact adversely on local communities as the local infrastructure in many parts of the City will certainly be unable to cope with the increase in population stemming from further new build.  For instance, Guiseley and Rawdon already suffers from a shortage of school places, doctors and dentists and inadequate roads and railways.  Indeed, Guiseley itself has already suffered an 11% increase in its population between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses.  This is largely the result of continuous house building on brownfield sites previously occupied by textile mills and engineering works no longer in existence.   The decision to place 2,300 extra houses in Aireborough, as a share of the housing target figure of 70,000, can only have a disastrous effect upon road congestion and transport infrastructure as there are no plans to develop or improve the A65 and the A658.  Lack of employment opportunity in Aireborough inevitably means incoming incumbents of new build will be forced to commute on roads designed to accommodate horses and carts in order to service their mortgages.

What is important now is for as many residents as possible in Aireborough (Guiseley, Rawdon and Yeadon) to support the Neighbourhood Planning processes currently underway and attempt to protect our local communities from the inevitable disastrous effects of this ludicrous planning decision.  Presently there is no mechanism in the Neighbourhood Planning legislation which allows local communities to refuse housing numbers as laid down in the Leeds Core Strategy.  In our view, that is not fair and is against the stated aims of the Localism Act which is supposed to devolve power down to local communities.  At present it does nothing of the kind – it is no more than a convenient political ‘sound-bite’ – offering only ‘token localism’.  We must all continue to fight and lobby for changes to Planning legislation which currently blights the quality of life for thousands of people, not only in Aireborough, but across the country as a whole.  There may well be a housing shortage as the current coalition government is claiming, but it is certainly not in Leeds with its 15,500 boarded up empty properties and land-banking by developers.  The real shortage is in the South East and London where there is greater opportunity for employment and this is where imaginative solutions are sorely needed, but all future development should, in the true spirit of localism, be in the hands of local communities.  Local people know what is best for their localities and it is grossly unfair that current planning legislation mitigates against locals and is heavily biased towards developers.

WARD will continue to press hard for planning reform at national level so that present iniquities in the current system are eventually eliminated.