The origins of the new YORKSHIRE GREENSPACE ALLIANCE

For about 6 years Wharfedale and Airedale Review Development (WARD) has been working to control the influx of housing that Leeds needs to satisfy demand. There has never been a moment when WARD has not agreed new housing is needed, but it has always contested just how many houses, and the impact of the number planned on greenbelt and greenspaces.

In May 2016 WARD and a number of other community groups, with Greg Mulholland MP and Stuart Andrew MP, went to see the top 4 executives responsible for forward planning in Leeds. We hoped to meet Judith Blake (Leader of Council) but she declined to attend. We saw Tim Riordan (Chief Executive), Tim Hill (Director of Planning) and Cllr. Richard Lewis (Executive Member for Communities – which includes planning).

WARD and the others begged (really!) LCC to reconsider the overall housing number for Leeds, but this request was flatly refused and our pleas were directed to the inspector who will determine if the Site Allocations Plan (SAP) supporting the Leeds Core Strategy is sound. The hearing for this is likely to be during late 2017.

More recently, as an example, Horsforth’s large SAP site, Strawberry Fields (HG2 – 41), was increased in size to accommodate the building of 777 houses and a major school, based on a single SAP consultation response from English Heritage. Two other responses were rejected and over 1980 other responses against the site, which is in the greenbelt, were rejected. Proof, if needed, that LCC is not interested in listening to the community. At the meeting detailed above, Tim Riordan used phrases (written down verbatim) in connection with the overall housing target – “playing the cards we have been dealt”, “sharing your (the community group’s) frustrations”, “aspirations on housing are those of the government”, and “we think we are going in the right direction”.

WARD considers that there is no further benefit in talking to LCC as they continue to direct us to the SAP inspector. So that is what it has been decided to do – but outside of WARD, by setting up a single-purpose group – Yorkshire Greenspace Alliance (YGA).

YGA is a growing alliance of community groups concerned with Leeds-wide future housing planning, especially the use of greenbelt to fulfil housing targets. Having been directed to the inspector hearing on the soundness of the Leeds SAP, that is where we are going to have to go. To do so, we need the advice and attendance at the SAP hearing of a planning barrister.

To control the large cost of doing this, YGA will target one main issue of the soundness of the Leeds SAP (and later the Bradford SAP) and that is the legality of the use of greenbelt to fulfil housing target. National Planning Policy Framework 2012 (NPPF) is the summary of planning law and section 9, paragraphs 79 onwards indicate that “greenbelt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances” (NPPF, paragraph 83). The Department of Communities and Local Government has repeatedly confirmed that local authorities use of greenbelt to fulfil housing targets is not an exceptional circumstance.

YGA’s target is therefore to raise funds to challenge legally Leeds’s SAP with the inspector at the forthcoming hearing. We need the funds to: –

• Help us, through publicity, to raise the funds to mount the legal challenge
• To take advice from a planning barrister
• To have the barrister attend the hearing and make the legal challenge.

YGA believes that at least £10,000 will be required to do this and later more to do the same for Bradford. Bradford’s Core Strategy has just been through inspection, and essentially has been found sound, with some changes, but relies on the same use of greenbelt to fulfil their housing target. As Bradford and Leeds are so closely linked, what happens in Bradford will affect Leeds and vice versa.

YGA feels that the loss of greenbelt is something that all can understand and are generally against. Once a greenspace has been built on it is lost as a greenspace forever. The Alliance will major on this aspect in its publicity so that a simple message emerges that will encourage as many as possible to contribute to funds.

Martin Hughes

Chairman, Yorkshire Greenspace Alliance and Treasurer of WARD