Wind of Change in Leeds Housing Targets?

4957684230_81f8701f15_zWe welcome Leeds City Council’s announcement today that they are going to do an early review on their 70,000 net housing target in the light of the new 2012 household projection data, released at the end of February.  We hope that Leeds will now review the data in an open, and transparent manner working collaboratively with local communities, especially those doing neighbourhood plans, other councillors and stakeholders, including other districts such as Bradford, rather than primarily with the housing industry.

The new 2012 household projections forecast 44,500 more households in Leeds up to 2028, instead of the around 80,000 households in the original 2008 projections used for the Core Strategy target.  The new data is based on the 2011 census, a Labour Market Survey and trends from 2007 – 2012.  Trend data has two major uncertainties,  the economic recession and migration &  immigration.

Leeds Council, are still saying that the 44,500 will have to be “a minimum base to start from, and with the continuing growth of the Leeds economy the real housing need figure up to 2028 will be considerably higher“, so our welcome is a cautious one, and we will be looking for a transparent process.

It is true that employment growth in Leeds is due to rise substantially over the next decade or so with around 50,000 jobs being created up to 2028 – especially in financial services, professional services, warehousing, retail and construction !!  In July 2014 the City Region Local Economic Partnership (LEP) signed a Growth Deal with the Government,  supported by a Strategic Economic Plan to boost jobs.  But,  everyone who works in Leeds does not live in Leeds or need a house there – currently 30 – 40 percent of the Leeds workforce live in other districts: and there is much housing regeneration to do in the Wakefield, Kirklees, and Bradford areas. There are also in the region of 15,000 empty homes,  a vacancy rate of around 5% on the 335,000 housing stock, and around 39,000 unemployed.

It has been obvious since the late Spring of 2014,  via a number of indicators,  that the housing figures were too high; the Planning Inspector, who took nearly a year to deliberate on the Strategy, acknowledged that the 70,000 figure was  at the upper end of the likely growth scenarios for Leeds (Inspector Report point 14), but said he was satisfied that the figure was based on a “reasonable objective analysis of the need for new housing” (point 19) and,  that Leeds “had not sought to reduce the target in the Core Strategy in light of the 2011 household projections” (point 15.)  – his report was more ‘Pontius Pilate’, than ringing endorsement, with crucial decision being left to the site allocations, and another Inspector.

Since September 2014 local communities and  a cross-party group of Councillors have been actively calling for scrutiny and an early review of the data, especially as they knew it would cause difficulty with  the five year land supply, threaten green belt sites and regeneration alike, and cause issues with calculating affordable, sustainable infrastructure.  This has now come to pass, with a number of appeals from developers all happening at once in the past month of so;  all on the 5 year land supply issue.   Leeds have just over 6 years supply, and with unused planning permissions on brownfield land becoming obsolete all the time, the situation is very fluid – especially as there are a number of green field sites  in places like Boston Spa, Scholes, Bramhope and Farsley that developers would dearly like.  If Developers win these appeals even with a Core Strategy in place Leeds is going to look very foolish – as that was their declared reason for pushing it through.

Developers do have too much power in planning, even the Planning Inspectorate appears to be somewhat in thrall to them; so it is high time the Government strengthen the hands of local communities eg to also be able to make appeals that do not cost an arm and a leg. But, Leeds has also been guilty of being housing industry led, rather than involving local people in their own area’s development. Let us see if the wind has truly changed.