Families fear they could lose their homes under plans to 'destroy' Oulton community in Leeds

A final decision is set to be made on a controversial housing plans for a former mining community in the outskirts of Leeds.

A protest, organised by the National Union of Mineworkers against the plans, took place last summer.

It follows months of protests from campaigners and residents of Sugar Hill Close and Wordsworth Drive in Oulton, who claim a planned redevelopment could “destroy” a community some residents have lived in for decades.

However, private investment company Pemberstone said the 1950s-built pre-cast concrete homes are now so old that refurbishment is no longer realistic. It added that older residents in the estate will be rehoused and that it was in talks with housing associations about the possibility of taking over the whole site.

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Pemberstone submitted a planning application in 2017 to demolish the 70 semi-detached houses and build a mix of detached and semi-detached houses.

A protest, organised by the National Union of Mineworkers against the plans, took place last summer.

The company has said it would allow its 12 long-term tenants to remain on the estate in “new, high quality, warm, accessible homes with lower energybills.” It also claimed it was in discussions with housing associations about taking over the whole site.

Council officers have also recommended that permission should be granted subject to 34 extra conditions. These include cycle, footpath and vehicle provisions; electric vehicle charging points and landscaping.

A statement from Pemberstone states: “The homes in Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close are already well past their expected lifespan and the remainder of the original estate has already been redeveloped.

“Refurbishment is not the answer – it would be costly and still require tenants to leave their homes but fail to deliver the full benefits of a new home. Building new homes is the only realistic solution.

“The fact is that the current properties are not only becoming harder to maintain but also becoming less attractive for long-term occupation – a number of properties are only occupied for relatively short periods. In fact, only half of the 70 homes are occupied by tenants who have been there for three years or more.

“If permission is granted, the 12 tenants with the old tenancies would be entitled to stay on the estate in new, high quality, warm, accessible homes with lower energy bills. The plan would also create 11 new housing association homes and Leeds City Council would have the power to specify that they are let to existing tenants.

“We would also continue negotiations with housing associations with a view to them taking on the entire site. Two have already expressed an interest though neither is willing to take on the existing properties.

“We have no plans for a wholesale demolition – and to reassure residents we have already said that if planning consent is granted we will be offering all those on standard tenancies the opportunity to extend their leases for two years.”

Cindy Readman has been a resident of the estate for the past 14 years with husband John, a former mine-worker at Rothwell Colliery. She says the promises from the company are not enough for the residents of the area, and worries she and others could be forced to move.

“We believe we have given enough grounds for them to turn it down,” she said. “But we are going to have to wait and see.

“Plans to rehouse 12 out of the 70 families is not enough. There are going to be another 11 affordable houses which we believe they will hand over to a housing association – but even then, that would only be 23 out of 70 homes. The rest will just be for the buying market, that would leave 40 families looking for somewhere to live.

“Even for the 12 long-term residents who they will rehouse, they will have lived in their houses for 50 years. A lot of them are old and won’t want to move.”

She said residents had no way of verifying Pemberstone’s claims it has been in discussions with housing associations over taking over the whole site.

“They put these statements out but we don’t have anything in writing,” she added. “They don’t say who the housing associations are, so we can’t check them out.”

The plans also attracted a letter from Coun Stewart Golton (Lib Dem, Rothwell), which read: “The greatest reason for the refusal of this application is through the argument of sustainability.

“In principle it is unsustainable to physically destroy 70 properties merely to replace them with the same number. The new properties proposed to be built may be of a higher energy efficiency quality, but the demolition and construction activity surrounding that development will have a much higher carbon footprint than refurbishment of the current properties would offer.

“What it does offer is unnecessary dislocation, trauma and potential homelessness for many families. It threatens to destroy sustainable generational child support structures as children face being forced into new schools through the scarcity of affordable housing locally.

“Elderly residents face multiple moves after the trauma of seeing the homes they have maintained for decades disappear under a bulldozer.”

In a letter to the planning department, another resident of Wordsworth Drive wrote: “Please don’t destroy our homes, we have an amazing community here where we all feel safe. We all pay our rent and we all want to stay. To you they may just be houses but to us they’re our homes. Please don’t destroy them.”

A report into the plans from Leeds City Council officers read: “Taking into account all of the material considerations including the representations received and the benefits of the scheme, and in the absence of any clear, convincing and reasonable planning grounds to refuse the application, the application is recommended for approval subject to a legal agreement to secure travel plan contributions, highway impact mitigation, affordable housing and a green space contribution, as well as the conditions as outlined.”

A decision on the plans will be made at a meeting of Leeds City Council’s south and west plans panel on Thursday.