Planning is in Turmoil – So It’s Sink or Swim

Leeds LDF Inspector's Housing Hearing

Leeds LDF Inspector’s Housing Hearing

Over the Autumn of 2013, the ANF has been busy representing the views of Aireborough people at the Leeds Local Development Framework (LDF) Inspector hearings in October.  We spoke at official hearings on, strategy,  housing, employment, infrastructure and green belt – ensuring that the views that had been expressed in the summer 2013 research were heard by the Inspector.  It is a central part of neighbourhood planning, that plans have to conform to the LDF,  so what the Framework says is important for the Aireborough Neighbourhood Plan.

Leeds’ Aspirational Housing Targets

What we found at the hearings,  was that the Leeds housing target of 70,000 net  was aspirational; the largest target in the country.  That, in actual fact, population growth forecasts based on 2011 census data,  only really demand a target of around 35 -45,000, and that the extra number of houses is down to an inflated view of the jobs Leeds could create between now and 2028 – a level of jobs growth they have never achieved, and in industries that include, bars, restaurants and warehousing.  It is also based on the assumption that everyone who works in Leeds, lives in Leeds – a situation obviously not true as people come from places such as Harrogate, Halifax and Bradford to work: the reason why Leeds railway station is one of the busiest in the North.

The ‘Sopranos’

We also found a serried rank of ‘volume’ Developers  (nicknamed by one community representative ‘The Sopranos’) at the housing and green belt hearing,

  • demanding an even higher housing target;  77,000 at a minimum
  • refusing to build on brownfield land,  as it was not viable (typically they want 20% margins)
  • mocking the need for family homes in Leeds centre – and so refusing to think about helping to regenerate the area.  They see no other option but for Leeds to keep building out and out and out.
  • claiming that infrastructure is not their problem; they just build houses
  • calling for ‘strategic areas’ of greenbelt to be identified so they can build a new town
  • arguing for more greenbelt to be given PAS (protected area of search) status, which means it can be built on if needed. That is how Guiseley lost Moon’s field.

The bottom line,  was that Developers want the certainty of a ‘Soviet’ style house building plan, so they know exactly how many houses are to be built each year to 2028; and,  if they don’t achieve it, then they will use that to ‘bash’ Leeds over the head with at planning appeals in order to release more lucrative green sites.

None of them turned up for either the employment or the transport infrastructure hearings.

Inspector’s Report and Shock Schedule of Modifications

The LDF Inspector, quickly reported to Leeds  in November 2013, that the LDF did not comply in the area of affordable (ie social) housing, or travellers camps.   Then, after some pressing by Leeds, he came back on the 31st January 2014 with a schedule of main  modifications Leeds would need to make to the plan to conform to the NPPF.  This contained bad news for both local communities, and Leeds City Council – in effect Leeds CC had shot both themselves, and us, in the foot with their aspirational housing targets.

Housing Targets – No Change

The modifications will be consulted on in March 2014, but in essence, the Inspector has seemingly accepted Leeds aspirational target of 70,000 net houses; rather than the 77,000 plus the  developers demanded, or,  a more realistic figures as asked for by community groups, MP’s (letter from Stuart Andrew MP)  and Local Councillors .  We say seemingly, as in a letter dated earlier in December, the Inspector said

“You will recall the significant debates during the hearings regarding the viability of housing development. I do not consider that I can reach sound conclusions on housing matters until the proposed changes to the policy on the provision of affordable housing, which will inevitably involve detailed viability evidence, has been assessed.”

The situation is confused, to say the least !!

Step Up Plan – Abandoned

Due to poor market conditions,  Leeds had wanted to step building from  3,660 houses per year up to 2017, to 4,700 per year 2018 – 2028.  But the Inspector has taken out the stepping,  which  leaves Leeds with the huge problem of  building an average of 4,375 houses a year  – a number they have never achieved: at the moment they are building around 2,000 a year.   Of course a more realistic target of 46,000 would mean a lower annual average.

Taking out the stepped plan in housebuilding has not yet been justified by the Inspector, and is especially strange in the light of a letter from Nick Boles, Planning Minister to Stuart Andrew in October, which states that stepped plans are justified when housing needs infrastructure to support it.

Full Greenbelt Review

The Inspector has also said he wants to see a full green belt review, based on green belt purpose,  in key housing market area such as Aireborough.  And, as we would expect,  that has meant that Leeds planning consultants are already priming their clients in readiness for the significant opportunities that presents.

Turley Associates, who act for a number of larger developers have said the “seemingly minor changes to the document [LDF] could open up significant possibilities for landowners and developers in the Leeds green belt””.  Planning Resource 11 Feb 2014

Consequences for Aireborough

What does this mean for Aireborough and the neighbourhood plan? Well, Developers have told the Inspector brownfield land in the City Centre is not viable, they cannot make their 20% profit margins on it;  they need greenfields. As the Government NPPF demands that Leeds needs to show that it always has a five year land supply in hand, plus 20%, that means Leeds needs land for 26,250 houses constantly available. And,  where are developers like to come for that land?  The green fields, around Leeds, especially in the Golden Triangle area which includes Aireborough. That means, with the greenbelt review, that all areas eg Rawdon Billing, Wills Gill, Thorpe Lane, Gill Lane could potentially be put in the site allocations as part of the five year supply.

Consequences for the Inner City

Not only is that bad news for us, but it is also bad news for inner city areas such as Holbeck and Armley who are struggling to find developers to build on their derelict and brownfield sites; this in turn makes the areas unattractive for buyers; even first time buyers specifically looking for cheaper property to get on the housing ladder.  Leeds has ‘ housing that is affordable’, but it is just not in desireable places to live. 

In addition, these areas also makes the city centre unattractive for many people.  Evidence shows that urban dwellers feel they do not have to walk far in Leeds  before they stray into areas  that ring the centre where they do not feel safe.  Neither, do they want to live in areas with large student populations.   Only 2% of the Leeds population (14,000) live in the city centre and tends to rent, before they ‘flee’ to towns like Ilkley and Harrogate.  The centre also has a dearth of high quality property.

Groups like Leeds Sustainable Development Group (LSDG) are working to try to address these issue,  with their plans for creating a better living environment and facilities in Leeds City Centre South.  The ANF is collaborating with LSDG in order to understand both urban and urban fringe issues, and how we can work together to mitigate problems.

And, Aireborough’s Infrastructure??

The Inspector  also seems to have completely ignore all evidence given at the LDF hearings  that Aireborough’s  infrastructure is already overburdened – schools, roads, and medical facilities, and the fact there is next to nothing in the core strategy to improve even the current dire situation !!  This is especially irksome, as the heated discussion over the lack of primary school places in Guiseley was going on at the same time as the hearings culminating  in Leeds Town Hall workshop !!  So much for Localism, so much for sustainability !!  Estate Agents have also told us that people move to Horsforth and Aireborough for the schools, and that the crisis in places and transport is soon likely to have a knock on effect on the desirability  of the area.

Any Good News ?

Well, on the review of the  greenbelt,  purpose rather than designation has been stressed .  Greenbelt purpose covers the following five points, although some think that the Inspector has made a mistake altogether in this modification.

  • To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  • To prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
  • To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  • To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  • To assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

Extra stress has been put on local employment and the need to support employment growth and diversification.

There has been a reinforcing of the need for high quality design, that fit in with surroundings.

What Do We Do?

So, it is now crucial for the neighbourhood plan, and our future, that the ANF gets on and

  • gathers evidence for the greenbelt review , including looking at ecological surveys,
  • conducts research on employment needs,
  • puts in place design standards
  • puts in place comprehensive community consultation methods in order to work with developers and stakeholders (already started with Design Council CABE)
  • not to mention evidences the infrastructure that is needed now,  and where it needs to go,

before we have to build 2,300 more houses (less those where there is already planning permission.).

There is a national crisis in planning, housing and infrastructure as evidenced by a recent Westminster debate; and action groups across the country are banding together to fight for change.  But, until changes are made either locally with the Leeds LDF by the Council, or nationally with the NPPF by the Government,  we can only work with what we have.  The positive opportunity is that necessity and turmoil are the parents of innovation.

Over the next couple of months, the Forum will be gathering momentum to fund and gather the needed evidence.   We have already started to build relationships with people like Pennine Prospects and the Leeds Chamber of Commerce who can help us.  We will be approaching people who have indicated they are interested in working on key issues in the area, to link them into a programme of work.  Anyone wishing to take part should contact us on aireboroughnf@gmail.com.

LDF Next Steps

The time-table for the Leeds LDF is likely to be 2015 for the strategy at the earliest,  and end 2014 for further work on the site allocations.

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