With the national party conference season over for another year, life in local politics should have been returning to normal this week, writes Coun Ryan Stephenson.
Instead, a twist in the saga of the Council’s housing plans has left community groups and councillors in a jam.
At Leeds Civic Hall preparations for a four-week public examination into the Council’s Site Allocations Plan have come to an abrupt halt as the ruling administration called for more time to reassess its position.
The plan, if approved in its current form, would give the greenlight to concreting over hectares of green land in the Harewood Ward. It would be a developers’ charter, signalling the demise of local neighbourhood planning and condemning our once open greenbelt to a sprawling concentration of large executive homes with few amenities.
This delay is a welcome advance for campaigners but the Council’s inability to publish a sound plan with a land supply for new homes now means it is putting at risk undeveloped land right across our area.
For over four years our local MP Alec Shelbrooke has been calling on the Council to reduce its over-inflated housing target; the cause of such pressure on sites such as the ancient Parlington Estate. His reasoned argument – supported wholeheartedly by myself and community groups across the Outer North East – established that there is only sufficient brownfield and unprotected land across the city to accommodate around 40,000 new dwellings. So, by setting a housing target of 66,000 the Council is tacitly approving the destruction of the greenbelt.
What makes this plan worse is that the Council has suggested no control over how land should be released for development and this will, indisputably, lead to major housebuilders opting to build homes on profitable rural greenbelt land before previously developed brownfield land.
The solution first championed in the House of Commons by Alec Shelbrooke, and supported by my colleagues on the opposition benches at Leeds Civic Hall, is therefore simple: reduce the housing target and reduce pressure on the city’s greenbelt.
After a four-year battle with the Council’s planning department a spanner of significant proportion was last week thrust into the works at the eleventh hour as government figures released by the Department for Communities vindicated the arguments made by so many in our community.
As part of a new housing white paper, the government consultation ‘planning for the right homes in the right places’ has set out revised guidelines for calculating future housing targets. This methodology establishes that the target Leeds should be planning for is 42,000 new dwellings by 2028, not the 66,000 the ruling administration has vehemently defended through rounds of consultation.
Planning for the right homes in the right places is never going to be an easy task but that doesn’t mean it has to be a task blindly adhered to without care to existing communities.
At the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Prime Minister Theresa May reminded us of her vision to build a country that works for everyone. A country in which young people are able to access home ownership with support from the Help to Buy scheme; those in the private rented sector have secure tenancies and decent homes; there is a supply of council housing to meet demand; and a country in which older people are able to downsize to smaller properties within their communities.
But a country can only work for everyone when its councils work with everyone and that must include those, in their hundreds of thousands, who don’t want to see their local greenbelt demolished to deliver executive homes that are unaffordable to the majority of people.
Planning for the right homes in the right places will be the challenge of our generation and it could be a legacy we gift to the next.