Leeds Housing Target Debate – 9.30am Wednesday 23 October 2013, Leeds Museum

Developers Agents sit in a line opposite community groups at the LDF housing hearing on 9th october

Developers Agents sit in a line opposite community groups at the LDF housing hearing on 9th october

A government inspector, Mr Anthony Thickett, is currently examining Leeds’ core planning strategy for compliance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), including greenbelt revision, revitalising derelict land, housing, employment, retail, design and transport. The outcome will lead to a development plan that will affect all our lives for the next 15 years – to 2028.

Last week there were hearings,  on affordable homes, strategy, housing, employment, and green belt, followed by 4 more this week, on topics such as transport and design.  However, the hearing on housing,  on 9th October, entailed a fierce debate on housing targets and had to be adjourned to 9.30am on Wednesday 23rd October at Leeds Museum (not the Town Hall – there has been a change).  The issue was that Leeds have admitted that the 70,000 housing target is ambitious and at the top of the range of what was needed – at the bottom of the range is a steady state scenario with an average of 35,000 houses.  This, however was hotly disputed by thirteen developers agents at the hearing, who wanted to see an even higher housing target, of 77,000 or more.

WARD urges all Leeds Councillors and MPs to attend this meeting to hear the arguments about the housing targets put by all parties.  It is also desirable for as many members of the public as possible to observe how these proceedings are being conducted.

WARD, ACS and the Aireborough Neighbourhood Forum together with other community groups from Farsley, Scholes and Morley, were extremely concerned last Wednesday when reports was produced to support the high housing targets very late in the day.  With one in particular being circulated at the start of the hearing, where attendees were given only half  an hour to read, assimilate and inwardly digest their contents, before being expected to comment upon them in an intelligent fashion.  Consequently, community groups were immediately placed at a disadvantage when arguing for a lower housing targets, to be built on mostly brownfield sites to regenerate the City Centre and protect greenbelt.  High housing targets mean the release of more greenbelt – something the NPPF says should only be done if other scenarios have been examined.

Clive Woods, speaking on behalf of Aireborough Civic Society said:

“We were amazed that complicated and vital documents should only be given out on the morning of the meeting.  The rules were that all evidence should have been made available by 16 September at the latest.  In addition, WARD has been asking for the evidence upon which the housing targets were based for over 12 months, including sending a Freedom of Information Request to Leeds City Council – this was not forthcoming until last Wednesday.  Many thousands who have made written comments about the Leeds Core Strategy will not have seen this document which was produced by GVA Grimley and Edge Analytics and therefore were unable to respond appropriately.  This is totally unfair as they needed to see evidence backing the Leeds Council’s unrealistic housing target.”

Does This Matter?

Yes – because Leeds has to identify 5 years of land supply that could be built upon – halve the target and half the amount of land identified in the site allocations procedure would be needed.

Save The Greenbelt

92% of the land identified in the site allocations procedure is on greenbelt/greenfield land.   Meanwhile derelict land near the city centre remains empty or is used as car parks.  With lower housing targets most of this important open space can be saved.

David & Goliath Experience

David Ingham Chair of WARD (Wharfedale & Airedale Review Development) said:

“Judging by the number of developers’ agents attending last Wednesday, it is crystal clear that developers fully understand the importance of this examination.  They are more than prepared to pay agents to express their views one after the other.  13 of them, all saying the same thing – that they want more land and higher housing targets – sat along one side of the examination venue.  It was almost reminiscent of a scene from the Sopranos as the small number of community representatives were heavily outgunned!   Despite Leeds having 99 councillors and 6 MPs,  only 4 councillors and 1 MP was present to witness the bullying tactics of the developers’ agents.  Given the importance of this examination and the possibility of large areas of greenspace disappearing across Leeds with the resultant disastrous effect on local communities   and future generations, this is a highly unsatisfactory response from our elected representatives.”

The general public, their councillors and MPs all need to see what is happening at this LDF Core Strategy examination.  Leeds is trying to justify a very high housing target based on a selection of 14 hypothetical scenarios predicting what will happen economically over the next 15 years – an absolutely impossible thing for even the best world economists to predict.  If this unreasonable housing target is not reduced (most of which will never be built anyway)  developers will keep arguing for even more land, knowing it will come from the greenbelt/greenfield sites and therefore generate greater profits.

It is vital that as many local people, councillors and MPs attend the Housing Enquiry at 9:30am on Wednesday 23 October in Leeds Museum.