We don’t need to build on green fields to accommodate dubious 2001 population projections; we need to ‘place make’ for a more congenial future. To achieve this, Aireborough, and Wharfedale may have to break away from the confines of Leeds and Bradford. Thus concluded WARD’s May networking meeting, attended by three local MP’s, eight local councillors, and a variety of representatives from local groups involved in neighbourhood planning.
The life sapping, suburban sprawl, planned by Leeds and Bradford Councils for Aireborough and Wharfedale in their unilateral local development framework’s (LDFs), is not a sustainable development model; Dr Rachael Unsworth, an expert in sustainable development from Leeds University told a recent WARD meeting on neighbourhood planning. Major lifestyle trends, from energy use to social interaction, mean that endless suburbia with car transport is no longer good for the soul. Growing numbers of people want to live, work and laugh, in the same locality, and city centre living is on the increase. When you cannot buy a pint of milk in Leeds centre after 5pm, whilst Menston residents struggle for nearly two hours to travel the eight miles to Leeds at peak times, it is time for greater planning vision.
However, council planners are stuck in the wastelands of the past; far too intent on backward looking projections of 2001 population data and top down, housing targets. The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is clear that a presumption in favour of sustainable development means a balance of environmental, social and economic factors; whilst, as Greg Mulholland, Leeds North West MP, pointed out, development is not just housing, it covers the whole spatial environment including school, roads and community facilities. Robert Bamforth agreed that Kirklees Community Action Network could “live with” the NPPF; the difficulty was that Kirklees’ LDF contravened it. Cllr Graham Latty added that Aireborough had rows of new houses; the planning priority now is for community development, employment, green infrastructure and creating a sense of place.
The biggest issue for local communities like Guiseley wanting to ‘place make’, is, as Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, put it, the democratic deficit which is castrating the much vaunted 2011 Localism Bill. Localism is supposed to put communities ‘in charge’, yet, as Cllr Ryk Downs pointed out, elected local councillors are being jilted by planners in favour of developer dominated SHLAA partnerships identifying potential housing land. Concerned by this practice, Addingham Civic Society had asked Bradford for the minutes of their SHLAA Partnership meetings, which includes Persimmon, Barrett and Redrow, but were rebuffed with the excuse of ‘commercial sensitivity’. Meanwhile, Parkinson’s Park, a regenerated green space in Guiseley has found itself listed on the SHLAA, and, despite councillor protests, its removal has to be agreed by Leeds SHLAA Partnership, which contains three housing developers!!
The combined experience of people at the meeting, gave the perturbing view that localism has handed the planning process to an ‘unholy alliance’, between volume housing developers and council planners: the reason why Menston Action Group is seeking a judicial review on the recent planning decision on the Derry Hill development.
Why were houses for people from outside the area, who shopped in Leeds, planned on flood risk land in Menston, when Bradford’s population growth was in the City centre, asked Philip Davies? Why would LCC not allow Leeds Sustainable Development Group to do a neighbourhood plan for 12,500 sustainable homes in south central Leeds, that would solve everyone’s problems, asked Rachael Unsworth? Why would Kirklees not allow the 85% of housing development on brownfield sites to be counted in housing targets, then we would not then have a green field problem, asked Robert Bamforth?
Important questions. Cynical developers, it seems, are wedded to a business model that shuns brownfield sites in favour of profitable green fields; there is no incentive for them to ‘place make’ and they land bank to stop brownfield regeneration. Cash strapped planners, meanwhile, see no further than archaic spatial models, and community levies. At the same time they are being worn down mentally and financially by the vexatious litigation employed by developers when planning decisions do not go their way. A prime case being Yeadon Banks, where developers are now talking of going to the European Court to protest their human rights over the communities’ rights to enjoy their village green.
It is wrong that developers should have unlimited rights of appeal, and communities, none. Philip Davies and Greg Mulholland said they had tried to remedy this by seeking either equal or no rights of appeal in the NPPF. However, they had been overruled by the Minister who now, due to the ‘holy grail’ of localism, wanted to keep out of the angry disputes that were increasingly flaring up between housing focussed councils and place making local communities.
The answer, said Stuart Andrew, MP for Pudsey, is to take up the imperfect ‘sling shot’ of neighbourhood planning, whilst he, and the other MP’s report the reality of NPPF implementation back to Ministers; keeping the Government’s ‘feet to the fire’. He will also be seeking an answer as to why the top down SHLAA, instigated by the last Government, is still in place. And, how Ministers propose to fund neighbourhood forums. Greg Mulholland also advocated neighbourhood plans, categorically stating “we don’t have to accept these housing numbers, nor should we”.
Neighbourhood plans are dubious instruments, designed as the means by which a community decides its own fate, they have to be evidence based, yet, have to take their lead from LDF’s. So, what happens at potential flash points where community place making evidence, trumps local authority evidence, or developer power? However, without plans, communities are disenfranchised, said David Ingham, Chairman of WARD.
It does seem as if the Government has armed communities with plough shears to fight storm troopers – is Wat Tyler, their poster boy for localism? Which is why Kris Hopkins, MP for Keighley and Ilkley, together with Philip Davies, and Stuart Andrew all think that a more sustainable future for Airedale and Wharfedale might lie in creating its’ own autonomous local authority area, away from the constraints and issue of Leeds and Bradford.