Developers under fire for housing green-field land grab

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DEVELOPERS are eyeing up fresh green-field sites to build on in Yorkshire despite sitting on plots where planning permission has been granted for nearly 30,000 homes but where construction work has yet to begin.

Thousands more sites across the region are believed to have outline planning permission, but may not be developed for years with construction having ground to a virtual standstill in recent years.

Developers say they need sites ready to build on to meet expected population increases greater than current construction levels.

But campaigners in the region have seized on the figures to claim developers should complete sites already approved before pressing ahead with plans to build on green-field land, which has not been previously developed.

There is particular anger that housebuilders are now approaching Leeds City Council inquiring about land which had not been due to be considered for development for many years while brownfield sites – which have been built on before so are generally less environmentally damaging to develop - sit idle.

Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew said: “This is a huge problem. It’s basically land banking the developers are doing. Invariably most of these sites that have permission but on which work hasn’t started tend to be brown-field sites.

“Developers don’t want to build on those because it’s more expensive and that’s the frustration. I think the Government is going to have to start looking at this really seriously. We’re starting to use green-field land way too early. This has been going on for years and it’s got to be dealt with.”

Leeds City Council, which has lost a string of legal battles with developers over green-field sites in recent years, said there was something “fundamentally questionable” about a system allowing housebuilders to seek new sites while so many permissions have not been seen through.

Coun Richard Lewis, the councillor in charge of city development in Leeds, also revealed that developers are now approaching the authority about the next round of sites – some of them green-field and likely to prove contentious – which have not even been confirmed as being definitely suitable for development yet.

The sites, which have not been revealed, were earmarked as “protected areas of search”, meaning they may be suitable for development after all other sites have been exhausted.

The council had not expected those sites, which include both green-field and brown-field land, to be considered for many years because it hoped to release sites for development in a particular order, preserving the most controversial green-field areas for as long as possible while less contentious plots went ahead.

However, after recent legal defeats councillors may be powerless to stop this group of sites being developed sooner than expected if they are agreed to be suitable.

“Not every one will be suitable for development, but I’m sure some will be controversial,” said Coun Lewis. “We’re trying to engage with developers to get some kind of reasonable approach.”

Official figures show there were 27,890 homes with planning permission but where work had not started in Yorkshire and the Humber last year.

But housebuilders warn that a reduction in the number of planning permissions granted in recent years threatens to hamper the chances of economic recovery and have called on the Government to press ahead with controversial planning reforms and help ease difficulties experienced by people seeking mortgages.

A report by the Home Builders Federation last month revealed that planning approval was granted for 10,709 homes in Yorkshire and the Humber between October 2010 and September 2011 - less than half the 24,649 homes approved in the same period between 2006 and 2007.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the HBF, said: “Building the homes we need would take millions off social housing waiting lists and enable beleaguered first time buyers to buy their own home. It could also create half a million new jobs, so giving the country a huge economic boost.”