Doubt cast over housing situation in Wetherby and surrounding area

Millennium Square and Leeds Civic Hall, Leeds City Centre.
Millennium Square and Leeds Civic Hall, Leeds City Centre.

The proposal to build a large portion of the houses planned for Wetherby and the surrounding area on Headley Fields near Bramham came under fire at today’s (January 13) development plan panel in Leeds.

Largely believed to be the saviour of the outer north east area of the city, which comprises Wetherby, Harewood, Boston Spa, Collingham, and Scholes, this site had the capacity to take 3,000 of the 4,943 houses proposed for the area - about seven per cent of the 66,000 net total for Leeds as a whole.

Though it had received widespread support and was heralded by Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke as the right move, it has been questioned as inappropriate and there is now a possibility it could be taken out of Leeds City Council’s (LCC) plans for Wetherby and the rest of the outer north east.

In raising the issue, LCC executive member for planning Coun Peter Gruen (Lab) said: “Wherever there is a site in the green belt an MP starts writing to the public saying this is Labour’s responsibility, and Wetherby Coun John Procter (Con) is saying we are taking too much out of the green belt.

“We are told that in this area 65 per cent is being taken out of the green belt, and that is all Labour’s fault. Well 98 per cent of that 65 per cent is the Headley Fields site.

“I am now minded to ask officers to work up a proposal that takes up this loss of green belt land. We are going to look at the Headley development, which has merits, but others as well, because we are not prepared to accept any longer the political posturing and painting us as the bad guys.

“We the administration play by the rules and stick by the process, while these people run riot trying to save their skins because the election is around the corner.”

Responding, Coun Procter said: “Coun Gruen has just made it political. I am not in control of comments from MPs, they will do as they see fit.

“And this is a backward step to have just taken and Coun Gruen knows it. He likes to lob a grenade now and then and this is it.

“It would be a retrograde step, clearly, going back to look at alternative proposals when everyone has now agreed that Headley Fields is the best possible solution.”

Kippax and Methley Coun James Lewis (Lab) put forward the motion to take this unexpected step, which was passed by the development plan panel as a recommendation for the executive board before any final decisions are made.

He said: “We need to look at some very complex issues, considering other sites again, and I will move for that as a proposal.

“The housing allocation should be looked at again with other sites with outline planning permission to see whether or not there is housing allocation that can be made to reduce what would be taken on the Headley sites.”

In making this proposal, which was passed seven for and two against, Coun Lewis also raised the question of Thorp Arch Trading Estate’s future.

This site, which has an existing outline application in place for up to 2,000 houses was earmarked for employment land only, according to Coun Procter.

This, he said, meant no green belt land had to be used to accommodate employment land, and that this decision would mean the application for housing, from landowners Rockspring Hanover Property Trust, could be scrapped.

However, as it is LCC’s policy to consider brownfield land first, this previously developed site could well now form part of the proposals for housing allocation in the outer north east in line with Coun Lewis’ proposal to consider other sites in the area to protect greenfield at Headley Fields.

Thorp Arch resident and objector to the housing scheme on the estate Peter Locke was at the meeting.

Surprised by the vote, he said: “It looks as if they are trying to throw Thorp Arch into the mix again and we will just have to see how that plays out.

“The current application shows you cannot develop it for housing. That is a practical problem and I have confidence that eventually sense will prevail.”

See the Wetherby News, published on Thursday, January 15, 2015, for a full report on the meeting.