Strategy gives Leeds City Council ‘extra armour’ to help protect Wetherby’s greenfield sites

Leeds Civic Hall, where planning applications are discussed by the plans panel.
Leeds Civic Hall, where planning applications are discussed by the plans panel.

With several planning applications for the Wetherby area currently under consideration at Leeds City Council (LCC), the local authority says it is in a stronger position to resist inappropriate development now its five year housing land supply strategy is before a government inspector. Reporter JAMES METCALF reports.

The Wetherby area is currently facing a host of pending planning applications that, if passed, would see huge numbers of housing developments built right across the ward.

Leeds City Council Executive member for neighbourhoods, planning, and personnel Coun Peter Gruen. Picture: James Hardisty

Leeds City Council Executive member for neighbourhoods, planning, and personnel Coun Peter Gruen. Picture: James Hardisty

The housing land supply strategy at LCC, which sets the number of houses it needs to provide to 3,660 a year for the entire local authority-controlled region up to 2017, is expected to be approved by a government inspector this month.

According to senior councillors, when passed this will give LCC more scope to deliver housing where it is needed while also refusing development on land, like some greenfield sites, not set aside as part of the strategy.

Chair of development plan panel Coun Neil Walshaw said: “The council is now in a stronger position to deliver new homes but also resist inappropriate housing developments. It is very important to us that this housing is delivered in the most suitable places through planning and consultation.”

The five year housing land supply strategy is a crucial part of the core strategy for the district which guides development for the next 15 years. This states that 70,000 new homes are to be provided by 2028, and sets the housing land supply annual figure at 3,660 up to 2017.

Wetherby Mayor Harry Chapman.

Wetherby Mayor Harry Chapman.

As Wetherby, Boston Spa, Collingham, Linton, Thorp Arch, and Scholes all have applications for hundreds and in two cases thousands of homes pending consideration, some on greenfield sites, the implementation of this strategy will undoubtedly have an effect.

Speaking to the Wetherby News, LCC executive member for neighbourhoods, planning, and personnel Coun Peter Gruen said the report from the government inspector appointed to look at the strategy is expected this month and will be formally approved at the September council meeting, providing ‘considerable extra armour’ to ‘resist inappropriate planning proposals’.

“If the report says our plan is sound we can adopt it at our next council meeting and then we will have a proper plan upon which we can base planning decisions,” he said.

“That means if there are speculative developments in the Wetherby area we have more reason to consider whether it meets policy and what doesn’t and whether we want that kind of development in that kind of place.

NAWN 1406241AM6 Robert Wivell.  Picture : Adrian Murray. (1406241AM6)

NAWN 1406241AM6 Robert Wivell. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1406241AM6)

“We want to build more houses, but we know there is a right place and a wrong place and our policy is to try to utilise brownfield sites first and we would be able to put much more weight on this policy once the plan is approved because we know developers would find it much more difficult to appeal.”

By inappropriate sites LCC specifically means protected areas of search (PAS), including many greenfield sites in the Wetherby area.

Once formally adopted, the strategy puts LCC on a stronger footing to refuse speculative applications targeting these areas because a large number of sites have already been set aside in the five year supply.

Coun Gruendid admit, however, that some greenfield sites would have to be used in future.

Chair of Thorp Arch parish council Sheila Humphreys.

Chair of Thorp Arch parish council Sheila Humphreys.

He said: “We know that we can’t meeting the totality of the housing target over the planned period just on brownfield sites, that simply isn’t possible, but what we want to do is focus development in such a way that land is released and doesn’t go to just anybody.

“At the moment if you are a landowner you can put an application in for anywhere and this will make it more compelling to resist those claims.

“The point I am making is that developers have put in some speculative applications on PAS land and from our point of view those areas aren’t supposed to come on applications for a number of years. They are there to draw on as and when necessary, but because they are attractive parts for builders they have all been clamouring for them.

“Our view is that if the plan goes through we will be able to say we have a plan and you don’t have to go to these areas where we think it is premature to bring them forward.

“We are not saying that there will be no applications for any particular area, but that we will be able to be much more robust about our decision-making process.”

The planning process at LCC will remain the same despite the strategy, with each application considered on its own merits by a plans panel with officers evaluating, and there will still be a public involvement.

Scholes and Barwick parish council chair Ben Hogan (right)  (120321M2)

Scholes and Barwick parish council chair Ben Hogan (right) (120321M2)

And though the strategy’s aim of 3,660 houses per year is for the whole area covered by LCC, in terms of Wetherby the council will go through site allocations for individual sites, and that too will go to consultation with the public.

This does not, however, mean the Wetherby area, which faces several large applications, will be able to completely resist development.

“We have allocated a total to different housing management areas and the numbers in Wetherby and Boston Spa are considerably less than they are in some areas,” Coun Gruen said.

“Everybody has to make their contribution and nobody can opt out and say we will take nothing but our neighbour down the road can take double.

“In fairness to the councillors they haven’t said that, so they need to stick to the improvements they have made and we have to be honest with each other and with the public and say there will be housing but we will not have a proliferation everywhere.”

What the local council’s say:

Wetherby Mayor Coun Harry Chapman said: “Most of the sites in Wetherby were on greenfield, though we do have the Forensic Lab now and land at Spofforth Hill was designated for use at some stage.

“We are hoping it is going to be enough to sort us out and if other sites like Thorp Arch, where there are thousands of houses planned, go ahead that will take the weight off a lot of us in Wetherby to find more in green space areas.”

Boston Spa parish council chair Robert Wivell said: “The strategy will very much have an effect in Boston Spa and the developments in the village. They are PAS sites and they are the sort of next in line if things go against us.

“At the end of the day it is a legalistic process and there are times when the layman thinks it is beyond my comprehension when certain decisions are reached, but look at from common sense it appears to us to have been a worthwhile development.

“We already have a situation where there are a lot of youngsters coming into the existing developments and the schools are full, so that is a problem, and we know that the surgery is oversubscribed, and that forces people to travel.

“And the third element that concerns us is the total ignorace of the public transport problem. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that if you don’t have a very good transport system you are going to use it.”

Thorp Arch parish council chair Sheila Humphreys said: “The acceptance by the inspector of the core strategy would result in LCC being under less pressure from appeals by developers against refused planning applications, because LCC would be shown to have in place a sound policy on housing numbers.

“In itself, this is unlikely to have any effect on their view on housing development on Thorp Arch Estate, since it is the LCC planners and councillors who appear in favour of this development, despite the site being rejected as unsustainable, and unable to be made sustainable, by the inspector at the UDP public enquiry.

“Once the core strategy is agreed by the inspector, LCC will have a more defensible planning framework giving it more control over the planning process. Thorp Arch parish council hopes that, with this change, LCC will be in a position to make better decisions.”

Scholes and Barwick parish council chair Ben Hogan said: “The last 10 or 11 appeals that have been lost by LCC have been because they said there has not been a five year supply.

“Now LCC are pretty confident that they have fulfilled that and there is a five year supply available there and at this stage there is no need to look at the big site as we call it in East Scholes.

“And we don’t have to deal with that because on the Bramley Fields site we have just over 400 houses going in there, and if those go in plus the 700 it is going to be something like 1,200 houses.

“We have currently got 1,000 houses in this village, which means we are going to have it more than doubled, and the infrastructure in the village is very poor.”

What the developers say:

Miller Homes currently have planning applications in Wetherby, Boston Spa, and Collingham pending consideration.

Tim Williams, strategic land manager at Miller Homes,

said: “We have worked closely with LCC on the development of the core strategy and remain hopeful that it will be adopted in due course.

“However, in addition to making progress on the core strategy, the planning team should also focus on determining planning applications. This isespecially important for those major developments with potential to quickly bring inward investment and economic growth to the local area.

“We currently have five undetermined applications within the Leeds area, on sites already identified for development, with the potential to provide over 750 much-needed market and affordable homes.”

Rockspring currently have a planning application pending consideration for up to 2,000 homes at the Thorp Arch Trading Estate.

Rod Mordey, director of Rockspring, said: “The investment into Thorp Arch Estate will help the Council meet its aspirations for sustainable development on a brownfield site, helping to protect green fields in the area.”

The East Leeds Extension North Quadrant Consortium currently have a planning application of up to 2,000 houses on land between the A58 and A64 in Whinmoor.

Speaking on their behalf, Wayne Gradwell, managing director of Persimmon Homes West Yorkshire, said: “Our current planning application for the development of 2,000 residential properties between Wetherby Road, Skeltons Lane and York Road is part of a site allocated for housing in a plan adopted by the council many years ago.

“It will deliver much needed new homes for the area. We do not anticipate that the government inspector’s report on the core strategy will have an impact on our planning application.”

Scholes Development Company, Barratt Homes, and Davild Wilson Homes currently have a planning application pending consideration for East Scholes for up to 700 homes.

Matthew Drake, land manager at Barratt Homes and David Wilson Homes, said: “The inspector’s report in relation to the core strategy is due to be received in the next couple of weeks.

“Once received we will review its content to consider the impact that this will have on our current planning applications in the city.

“Both the council and the development industry agree that there is a need for significant new homes across the city. David Wilson Homes are committed to playing our part to ensure that these needs are delivered.”

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