There are 4 key tenets of National Planning policy. A strong case can be made that none of these have been met in the Leeds City Council Site Allocation Plan for Aireborough before 2023.
- That planning should be done by engaging local communities
- That planning should involve co-operation between neighbouring authorities
- That Green Belt should only be used for development under exceptional circumstances after all alternatives have been evaluated.
- That development should be sustainable and necessary infrastructure planned before it is done.
As this is law, Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew has listened to constituents and has said this week that “I will be raising this as a matter of urgency with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to see how affected residents and campaigners can resist these extremely damaging plans to delete our greenbelt as it has become apparent that none of the parties involved in this extremely flawed process are listening. It is particularly disappointing that Leeds City Council have failed to listen to their own residents.” His statement was made to the Wharfedale Observer, who have taken soundings on the proposed SAP from a variety of local representatives and groups. You will find it here.
Stuart Andrew’s case to the Secretary of State is being supported by the advice given to the Aireborough Neighbourhood Forum by barrister Jenny Wigley, and paid for by crowdfunding from local residents. Jenny was specifically concerned that the consultation process was not adequate, that LCC had changed development strategy twice during the enquiry process and that the Council had not demonstrated exceptional circumstances for Green Belt deletion, particularly Green Belt deletion of the Aireborough sites which all showed a lack of sustainability.
What Does Leeds City Council Say About Their Plans ?
In the Wharfedale Article, Leeds City Council give three generic excuses for their plans for Aireborough. Note, they say nothing specific about Aireborough itself, as if every part of Leeds is the same. Whereas, Aireborough is the only part of Leeds in the South Pennines Regional Area soon to be designated as a special landscape region.
In addition, The South Pennines Moors have already got special protection and LCC’s mitigation for an increase in local residents is totally inadequate. One key mitigation is, they say, the North West Leeds Country Park, which does not even warrant a mention in the Core Strategy . When we asked the Chief Planning officer about this we were told. “The NW Country Park wasn’t referenced in the Core Strategy as it wasn’t (and isn’t) designated as such…… If and when it is created as an entity we can certainly look at incorporating a reference in a future review of the development plan.”.
This is only one small element of Aireborough that the Inspector has not commented on; Historic England too has queries on both the Wills Gill and the Hollins Hill site. Yet one of the three key excuses given by Leeds for building on Aireborough’s Green Belt sites is:
1) The Inspector approves.
Now, Inspectors get things wrong, the Leeds SAP was particularly complex with major changes to the plan and the NPPF during the 2 year process of the hearings. Inspector’s reports are and have been successfully challenged, including Bradford’s Local Plan that was called by the Communities Minister in 2016 at the behest of Philip Davies MP, after an Inspector’s report .
Inspectors rely on the Council to have made a sound plan in the first place, as they know areas better !! The Inspector is not aware of all contextual information including that Bradford want to build 150 houses at Esholt, 133 on Bingley Road Menston, and 500 in Burley – this has not been considered. Yet look again at tenet number two in the list above !!
Further, LCC always excused their over ambitious housing target as ‘the Inspector approved’, only for this to be proved wrong when the ONS data showed falling household forecasts and the Government came up with their own calculations in 2017. (Community groups had always said is was too high, and were ignored by both Leeds and the Inspector.)
Inspectors are not infallible, it is up to the Local Authority whether to go ahead with a plan, although they do have to abide by any changed an Inspector makes.
Another favourite excuse of LCC is:
2) Aireborough has just 3% of the housing target for Leeds.
That sounds perfectly reasonable, until you know, as LCC do, that Aireborough now only has large Green Belt sites left to build on, so they know that target must come from Green Belt !!! LCC do not count small sites that may come up for a few houses, they tuck those into their windfall calculations, not against Aireborough’s target.
In addition, Aireborough has built 6% of Leeds housing between 2012 and 2017 – so we have already over delivered, with next to no infrastructure improvements.
The last generic excuse is that
3) The plan has mitigation measure.
Mitigation measures are put in place when there are negative sustainability issues. The success of that mitigation is a matter of debate, and if it is wrong it leaves an area worse off.
Now, the key mitigation for Aireborough’s road congestion is Horsforth roundabout improvements. The lack of success of that needs no further words.
During 2018 it was found that Aireborough has high levels of air pollution around our major roads. No mitigation has been put in for this, and yet Leeds City Council has recently announced a ‘Climate Emergency’. This is on top of knowing that air pollution in Leeds is a crisis issue.
Then there is mitigation of flooding on The Ings site. This has not even been worked out yet; LCC have agreed the developers can do their own report, after an Independent flood report gave an ‘inconvenient conclusion’ on the high level of flood risk. At the moment the plans, according to flood experts, are totally inappropriate and will cause flooding downstream towards Otley.
And, why build on a floodplain anyway when there are much better brownfield sites in Leeds and over 15,000 housing units (established under an FOI) in planning permissions in the City that have not been started. Green Belt is there to help urban regeneration.
What Can You Do?
We could go on, with the information that has been overlooked, data that is wrong, and mitigation that is totally inadequate. The Inspector has not looked at each site in the same way as a detailed enquiry on each site would have done. In the report they do not even mention the issues with Ings Lane and Hollins Hill, and the description of Wills Gill makes you wonder if they even visited the site – but rather relied on maps.
A number of residents have now written to Leeds City Council Leader Judith Blake about their concerns – LCC is due to adopt the Site Allocation Plan at a Council Meeting on 10th July – they are not forced to adopt it if they truly care about residents concerns and the sustainable development of Leeds. Email for Judith Blake is firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime here is a part of a BBC Look North Programme made in February 2018 as just part of our efforts to ‘engage’ with Leeds over the issues on the sites they were proposing.