Controversial plans to build houses and a sports pitch on green belt land in Pool-in-Wharfedale were supported by planning chiefs this week.
It followed an intense debate, during which applicant Wiedmann Whiteley, which also owns a nearby paper mill, claimed the cash raised would be reinvested into the business and help “maintain the workforce”, currently 120 people.
The proposal sought permission to build nine houses, while relocating an existing sports pitch to land south of the site, along with a new clubhouse as well as changing facilities.
Some members of Leeds City Council’s south and west plans panel were critical of the plans, claiming the “special circumstances” needed for permission to build on green belt land had not been met.
But others argued that the plans would help support jobs in the area and improve the layout of the site.
Commenting on the application, Coun Colin Campbell (Lib Dem, Otley and Yeadon) said: “Here is a company and here is a green belt site – they are saying to us that they want us to set aside national and local concern, because we think we have very special circumstances.
“I am not convinced. I worry that you build a business model on selling assets. There is no guarantee that any money they raise will guarantee the future of this firm, and once you have lost green belt, it’s gone forever. I am not convinced there are special circumstances.”
Coun Ryan Stephenson (Con, Harewood) added: “I have satisfied myself that there is no economic argument here.
“There are other options which the company has yet to explore to generate the capital it needs before simply selling off the green belt to build houses that are not needed.”
However, many councillors were supportive of the plans.
Coun Kayleigh Brooks (Lab, Little London and Woodhouse) said: “I keep coming back to the 120 jobs, and the impact that the loss of those jobs would have on the local area.
“I think that, with an improved layout, I would be inclined to support it.”
Coun Matt Gibson (Lab, Farnley and Wortley): “Leeds City Council is supposed to be pro-jobs and pro-business.
“We are going through exceptionally uncertain economic times, and we have an employer coming to us with solutions that can preserve jobs and can help improve the local economy of Leeds, and for us to be denying them that seems wrong to me.”
Representing the applicant, Rachel Martin told the panel that money raised from the sale of the houses, would be reinvested into the paper mill business.
She added: “The economic benefits are enormous. There is no other paper mill in the UK which produces the same paper and products. The company has a predominantly local and loyal skilled workforce.
“The investment in new machinery as a result of the sale of nine residential dwellings will not only maintain that workforce, but create new opportunities for local people.
“With all the uncertainties surrounding businesses at present, the one certainty is that this company will invest and grow as a result of this investment, should planning permission be approved.”
Another representative from the company told the meeting: “We have an investment strategy that takes the mill into a position where we can produce positive results for the business and allow it to become self-funding.
“The next part of this journey is for us as a company, to overcome the effects of Brexit, but also to develop the industrial papers in the UK.
“But, unfortunately, we do need a leg-up.”
A council report into the plans claimed the current business had run for more than 100 years, and that records of a paper mill on the site date back to 1790. The business currently has a skilled workforce of 120 people, many of who live locally in Pool or Otley, and currently had 3 apprentices.
Opposing the plans, vice chair of Pool Parish Council Joanna Rowling told the meeting: “This green belt below Otley Chevin is not a local issue. It is part of the lungs of Leeds. I’m sure every one of you has enjoyed walking on Otley Chevin.
“Those views are in the conservation area and they are very important.”
The plans were supported by the panel, with the decision made to delegate approval to planning officers. More detailed planning applications for the sites are expected to be submitted in due course.