Stuart Andrew: We need realistic housing targets from city planners

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THE Pudsey constituency is made up of many individual towns and villages that have a history dating back centuries.

All have their own unique identity and are blessed with being close to one of the busiest and most successful cities in the North – Leeds – and being a stone’s throw from the beautiful Yorkshire Dales countryside.

What makes living in Pudsey, Horsforth and Aireborough enjoyable is the countryside that acts as the natural green lungs between the communities, helping to preserve their real sense of identity.

Every part of the constituency, however, has seen significant change over the past 15 years. Where once stood mills and factories, we now have thousands of new houses. As a consequence, the issue of planning has always been high in the minds of local people. All those extra houses have brought real problems: roads such as the A65 and the ring road have become notoriously congested; schools have such high demand that it is difficult for some parents to get their children into their local school; and doctors’ surgeries have got busier and busier.

Just as we thought that things could not get any worse, we are now facing a new onslaught. Like many councils across the country, Leeds City Council is currently developing its local plan. The core strategy sets out the council’s housing target. To my amazement and that of my constituents, the council has set the target at a staggering 70,000 houses during the next 16 years. In doing so, the Labour-run council has all but adopted the housing figures from the now-defunct regional spatial strategy, which is an unacceptable prospect for me and my constituents.

As a base for that target, the council has used Office for National Statistics population growth projections from 2008. Those data are clearly out of date and inaccurate. More recent data, such as the Census, show that growth has been some 43 per cent less than predicted, which presents the first anomaly in the target.

Additionally, the council has based housing numbers on a large explosion of jobs in Leeds, which is good news. However, the council predicts that all the people who fill those jobs will need housing in Leeds, which, in an age of commuting, is clearly nonsense. Currently, only 66 per cent of people who work in Leeds actually live there. Why else would Leeds railway station be one of the nation’s busiest? And why else would trains arriving at stations just within the city’s border, such as Guiseley, Horsforth and New Pudsey, be so crammed if so many people working in Leeds were not from neighbouring areas?

I recognise the need for house building, and across the city of Leeds there are masses of brownfield sites that need regenerating, particularly in the centre. An ambitious plan was proposed by Leeds sustainable development group for the south side of the city to transform old, derelict sites into good housing, schools and a park – in effect, creating a garden city. That is exactly the sort of development we should surely be encouraging, particularly given the excellent transport links, but again that proposal seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

The usual accusation of nimbyism will be bandied about, but that is most unfair. As I said at the start, we have seen every bit of every brownfield site in my constituency used: the High Royds hospital site; the Silver Cross site; the Springhead mills site; the gasworks in Yeadon; the Brook Crompton site; the electricity site; the Cornmill estate in Horsforth; the Broom Mills site in Farsley; the Newlands estate at Farsley Celtic; and the Waterloo Road and Cemetery Road developments in Pudsey.

Those are just a few of the developments, and more are being built or planned. Some 550 houses have been proposed for the Riverside and Clariant sites in Horsforth. Our community has had to cope with the effects of the building of thousands of homes, so this is not nimbyism; it is about wanting sustainable development. Because of the use of all those brownfield sites, in many areas all we have left is the green belt, and building on that is simply not on.

Of course house builders want these sites – they are easier to build on and they are often in areas where the house builders will make the most profit – but the green belt in this area is special.

We are not talking about scrappy bits of land; the green belt forms part of what is special and unique in our area – the rural fringe of a city that sits on the borderlands between the south Pennines and the dales. Green belt sites are important green lungs between our communities that help to keep the identity of those communities. They are used by walkers, horse riders, mountain bikers and farmers, and of course they are important for wildlife and heritage.

I have real fears, and the community are rightly angry. They have accepted brownfield development, and they now fear losing the green belt.

We need sustainable and realistic housing targets and regeneration decided by planning, not developers. If we had those things, we would be able to preserve the green and beautiful countryside of which Leeds used to be so proud in calling itself the green city.