Who is to blame for the unachievable, aspirational, Leeds housing target of 70,000 net that will adversely affect wellbeing across Leeds. Is it the Government, the ‘independent quango’ Planning Inspectorate, Leeds City Council, or all three together?
At the end of October we reported on the measures being taken by communities to bring Leeds’ housing target in line with need and sustainable planning. Here is the progress in what seems like a huge game of pass the parcel.
Adoption of Leeds’ Local Development Plan
On 12 November, amidst a scene of high drama, when even the lights went out, Leeds City Council voted to adopt its Local Development Plan (LDF). On one side of the debate was an unlikely coalition of opposition parties – the Greens, LibDems, Tories and Independents. On the other, the controlling Labour Party.
The first motion to be voted on, was a Tory amendment to the LDF calling for a very early review of the housing target in line with new 2011 census data, as part of the upcoming site allocations. This was defeated by the Labour Group voting against it en block, whilst all the opposition groups, the Greens, the Tories the Independents and the LibDems voted for it. Now, why would anyone vote against a review of housing need, based on substantially different and up to date data, when so much was at stake for communities? Beats us, and smacks of something hidden !!
The second vote, on accepting the LDF resulted in the Labour Group voting for it en block, and the combined opposition groups abstaining. Everyone knew a Local Plan is needed to give Leeds the chance of an upper hand with Developers, but one with an aspirational, undeliverable, target and no supporting infrastructure plan was not supportable.
So, the plan is now adopted, and we move on to the site allocations part of the plan in early 2015.
Many voting for the LDF blamed Government planning legislation (the 5 year land supply rule, introduced in 2007) and said the Inspector had accepted the target (when new data became available in May 2014 Leeds told the Inspector it didn’t want to change the housing target). The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is, undoubtedly, ‘sham’ Localism, giving the upper hand to volume developers; it has been rightly criticised by Town Planners for encouraging dull housing estates rather than places to live; some MPs have delighted in telling people that their green fields are ‘ugly’. But, with a reduced housing target and a plan that included infrastructure Leeds City Council could have fought for local communities: it didn’t, it just passed the LDF and passed the parcel to the Government.
Department of Communities and Local Government
Back in September, a number of Leeds communities wrote to DCLG to ask Eric Pickles MP to look again at the undeliverable, aspirational Leeds housing target. The result was that Stuart Andrew, MP for Pudsey, organized for Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis to talk with community groups from across Leeds on the morning of 6th November. It was too much amusement that the Minister arrived late to the meeting in Pudsey at 8.30am, because of traffic !!
The Minister listened to what was said, stressed that planning should be done in co-operation with local people, and said he would be strengthening the power of neighbourhood planning before Christmas (2014). We await the changes with interest, because the Planning Inspectorate have publicly stated at a Government enquiry that they believe a Council IS the ‘voice of local people’; a fact made very plain to the community groups’ ‘Peasants’ Revolt’ at the Leeds Inspector’s hearings in October 2013.
Brandon Lewis also stressed that greenbelt could only be changed or built on in exceptional circumstances, and that new guidance had just been issued to Councils in October. This, he said, had to be tackled through the site allocation plan Leeds were drawing up. Here is his letter confirming the position.
So, the parcel passes back to Local Councils, and the Planning Inspectorate.
It is the duty of Scrutiny Board to ensure that Leeds plans are; well, scrutinised for irregularity and are in line with facts. This, it seems, has not happened with the aspirational, undeliverable Leeds housing target, and the Board asked Dr Boden, from Edge Analytics, to come and answer their questions on the range of housing scenarios he had produced for the Council (which they had not seen to scrutinise), and the latest housing data he was modelling.
This bizarre meeting, attended by many members of the public, saw statistician Dr Boden, shorter on facts, than opinion . Councillors from all parties threw questions at the good Doctor, which he did not have the data to answer – would anyone go to a meeting to answer questions on housing statistics and not take the relevant documents? With Dr Boden, was Cllr Peter Gruen, Deputy Leader of Leeds Council and Executive Member for Neighbourhoods and Planning. Cllr Gruen’s view was that the questioning of Dr Boden was an “abuse of the scrutiny board”, as it was the day before the vote on adoption. And that, ‘anyway’, the Planning Inspector had accepted the target. The sound of a rustling paper parcel was heard again !!
The outcome, was that Scrutiny Board is to form a working party of Cllrs to examine the new models Dr Boden is working on, together with the evidence for what types of houses are needed, and what type of jobs are expected in Leeds’ ‘jobs led’ housing scenario. Information, which should be informing the site allocations Leeds has been working on for several years, and is currently bringing to fruition.
So where are we?
- The Minister says, greenbelt can only be changed or built on in exceptional circumstances.
- The Minister also says, that the Council should be working with communities on shaping the place they live, and will strengthen neighbourhood planning.
- The Planning Inspectorate thinks a Council is ‘the local community’.
- Leeds City Council, are due to put out their site allocations for public consultation in the New Year, after keeping them secretive from local people since the last consultation in the summer of 2013. Once the ‘consultation’ is over, they will go to the Planning Inspectorate for approval.
- Leeds City Council site allocations include a lot of sites in Aireborough for 2,300 houses, the majority on greenbelt. The idea being, that Leeds will review the greenbelt and reduce it.
- Leeds Housing Scrutiny Board is, at last, going to scrutinise ‘Leeds’ jobs led housing growth target, the types of housing needed (family housing on green fields, or affordable housing in urban areas, or even family housing in Leeds City Centre). Together with Dr Boden’s models.
- Meanwhile, the Aireborough Neighbourhood Development Forum is working on the evidence base (eg green space, housing need, employment) for the Neighbourhood Development Plan, and building up the master plan with Watson Batty.
- Oh, and there is an election on 7 May 2015.
So, somewhere in 2015 the contents of the parcel might be revealed, or there again, it may go on and on being passed from Council, to Inspectorate to Government and back, with ‘local communities’ left watching the game powerlessly !!