After well over a year of inquiries, disputes and fully-blown arguments, Leeds City Council has finally rubber-stamped its rules for where tens of thousands of houses should be built across the city over the next decade.
Leeds’s controversial Site Allocations Plan (SAP) has been subject to setbacks and controversies, culminating with a public inquiry into the document from a government planning inspector last year.
Following the publication of the inspector’s report, suggesting 32 greenfield sites should be removed, councillors have now adopted the plans at a full meeting of Leeds City Council.
The ruling Labour group told the meeting that the SAP will help protect green field sites against developers bringing forward unsuitable planning applications.
However, opposition councillors were still unhappy with the plans, with some claiming there were still too many greenfield sites in the plan. Meanwhile, others said it was already too late, as the drawn out procedure led to unsuitable developments already taking place.
Coun Lisa Mulherin, Labour’s executive member for planning and transport, told the meeting: “An approved site allocations plan will mean we have a five year land supply to protect from speculative developments.
“We need a plan in place to protect the greenfield space from a development free-for all.
“[Conservative group leader] Coun Andrew Carter knows we have brought forward a SAP review in line with targets.
“Thirty two sites were taken out of the SAP, but the site selection requirement were justified, but considered the plan for a shorter time period to reflect the lower target.”
She added that developments had been built on a large number of brownfield sites over the past 10 years.
The decision was to revise Leeds’ original housing target of 70,000 new homes by 2028, to just over 50,000 by 2033. It also contains a five-year housing land supply until 2023.
However, the council’s wider core strategy document is currently being reviewed. This currently has a target of 66,000 new homes between 2012 and 2028.
But, following changes to the SAP, the council is now considering a much lower target of 47,000 new homes between 2017 and 2033 for the core strategy.
The council’s Conservative group wanted an amendment to the recommendation, which would commit to reviewing the SAP.
Conservative councillor Barry Anderson led the opposition charge against the Labour group: “The target is still 70,000 – you have not changed it.
“The developers still picking off the sites one by one which suit them best of all.
“There are still far too many sites being built in the greenbelt that are not needed. You think you’re right, everybody else in the city is wrong. It is a growing trend. You have not been clear with the public.
“We do need more sites removed, otherwise we will be in a problem.
“There are no plans to put infrastructure into these sites, to get increased public transport or green infrastructure in the area.
“When it comes to sustainability, we [Conservatives] are ahead of the game.
“With this amendment, we are trying to get proper consultation for next time, We lost the public last time, and we need to give more weight to local neighbourhood plans.”
Contentious planning applications go before council planning sub-committees, for members to make decisions on whether to allow them to be built.
If a developer has a plan rejected by the council, it has the opportunity to appeal to the Government to review the decision and overturn it.
A lack of an SAP leaves councils open to developers winning on appeal, as it would mean it had no plan for where houses should be built.
Speaking at the meeting, Coun Robert Finnigan, leader of the Morley Borough Independents Group, said: “George Orwell introduced us to doublethink and newspeak. They learned it due to peer pressure or to get status in the party.
“I would add an example: ‘Save greenbelt and greenfield sites from development by allocating greenfield and greenbelt sites for development’ – a classic example of doublethink.
“This is a developer’s opportunity to develop on our greenfield sites.”
Labour councillor Caroline Gruen accused opposition councillors of "whinging" adding: "It shows they are more interested in fighting the battles of the past, rather than rising to the challenges of the future."
In an energetic speech, Coun Dan Cohen (Con) said: “Thank goodness for the Government. While [the Labour administration] was clinging like a drowning man to a raft with your 70,000, they came up with a more sensible target,
“If it wasn’t for this, they would have had a target of 20,000 more houses – what a mess.
“If there was a mission to make this as complicated and obfuscated as possible, they would have won it.”
Liberal Democrats leader Coun Stewart Golton said that many bad developments had already taken place due to the lack of an SAP.
Referring to Coun Finnigan’s contribution, he added: “The council’s approach is a little bit less 1984 and a little more Animal Farm.
“It is not their duty to inflate the target so much that is makes it unsustainable from the outset.
“It’s because the council was driven by greed. They wanted to build as many houses as possible so they could get the council tax income.
“If you talk about how developers have been kept off cherry-picking sites, I would say all our cherries have been picked. The council’s mismanagement and folly in chasing these targets has meant there are 2,000 houses that should not be there.”
Leeds Green Party leader Coun David Blackburn said: “This SAP is based upon the core strategy. That is 70,000 houses.
“We are only half way through the process – we should have got over it by now. It’s been wrong from the first day they ever mentioned it. Opposition parties have been arguing that.
“This is not the end of the story, it’s not even particularly good news. It stops developers from building wherever they want, but there are places within this SAP where we said they shouldn’t be included.
“It’s only half time and there is a long way to go yet.”
Pudsey councillor Trish Smith (Con) warned that the proposed, south-east Bradford link road, is included in the plans.
She added: “This will potentially enable the delivery of 2,000 new homes. It is likely it will be built on greenbelt and likely many of the houses will be too.
“So you will understand why so many residents feel under siege in Pudsey.”
Leader of the Garforth and Swillington Independents group Mark Dobson said: “It’s only fair to pay tribute to people in our ward who lobbied hard at the public inquiry.
“Those of us with long memories will remember developers wanted more than 100,000. So while the 70,000 figure was too high, there were good reasons why the council raced into it at the time.
“None of us came here with the intention of undermining towns and villages. The important thing about looking at history is to learn from it.
“It will be a blink of the eye by 2023. We cannot get ourselves in this fix again.
“If we lose our unique towns and villages, we will all be culpable for what happens to future generations.”
Responding to Conservative members’ concerns, Coun Peter Gruen (Lab) said: “By talking about building on greenbelt, you are implying that you don’t give a damn about brownfield sites in inner city areas.
“If there were plans to concrete over the entire inner city, you would not give a s**t.”
Conservatives deputy leader Coun Alan Lamb said: “When this process started, Gangnam Style was number one and the Olympic games were taking place in London.
“Don’t get fooled, this is only until 2023. When the SAP review takes place, we have to add more. When you think you have saved green field sites.
“Coun Gruen – you can do better than that – the language was the highlight of your speech to be honest.”
The report then went to a vote, where the SAP was passed.