Leeds Housing Target – Are the Council Really For Turning?

U-turn on Leeds housing targets as ‘inflated’ numbers are slashed by a fifth  (Yorkshire Evening Post 15th July)

Leeds will need ‘15,000 fewer’ new homes than first thought (Wharfedale Observer 20th July)

The local newspaper headlines are in full Trojan Horse mode about a  reduction in Leeds housing targets – unfortunately they are wrong.   Leeds City Council (LCC) has not done a U-turn on housing targets, they are continuing in exactly the same direction, just maybe a little slower as the wheels fall off the Core Strategy 2012 – 2028.

To be fair to the press,  LCC put out a very confusing press release on 13th July indicating that ‘initial conclusions’ from technical work on the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) meant they would be “recommending the overall figure for housing need should be reduced to reflect what we know now.”   They went on to say “a revised housing need for Leeds may be in the region of 55,000 homes up to 2033 (the revised plan period as part of the Core Strategy review).” Neither did it help understanding by mentioning the ‘unrelated’ Inspector’s hearings for  Site Allocation Plan for 70k houses (ie land for 66k and a windfall target of 4k).   

What is the Real Situation?

LCC have been reviewing their housing need since September 2016, when they finally accepted that Office of National Statistics (ONS) data together with housing target models indicated that the housing need for the City was  considerably below the current Core Strategy target of 70k net.  A driver of this was that during the Summer of 2016, LCC had been officially found to not have the all important 5 year land supply, and thus, their housing policies were out of date.   This was an enormous blow to the Core Strategy 2012 – 2028, and the wheels were falling off.

A SHMA Reference Group was put together, including the Aireborough Neighbourhood Forum, to review housing need in the City.  But it was decided to do this for the period 2017 – 2033 (this time frame is very important to note).  Consultants Arc4 put together a programme of technical analysis of the Leeds Housing Market which included

  • A Housing Need Survey – completed by the public earlier this year,
  • Focus Groups with people who know about community housing needs
  • Statistical modeling in line with current Government recommendations for objectively assessed housing need (OAN).

The result of this technical work so far, is that in the period April 2017 – March 2033,  Leeds City is thought to have a housing need of 55,296.  This includes demographic changes including reasonable employment growth.


We stress, that the Inspectors for the Site Allocation Plan (SAP) Hearing in October 2017 will NOT be taking any account of the emerging housing need figure of 55,296 between 2017 and 2033.  They will be looking for land for 66,000 houses (70k net including windfall).  That will include the current plans for green belt deletions under exceptional circumstances.

The Inspectors are expecting to have the SAP done and dusted by December 2017.  If they do  (and we are doubtful given the complexity of the issues) then it will be up to Leeds City Council whether or not they want to adopt the current site allocation plan,  under the out of date housing policies . 

Meanwhile, the 55,296 figure will be used by the SHMA as an input to decisions by LCC on a new housing target for 2017 – 2033.  The Council will need to consider many factors including

  • if they think economic growth will be higher than the ONS figures,
  • what they think might happen with migration,
  • whether they need to include a figure for previous years under deliver of plan of 4,476

The final housing target figure for 2017 – 2033 decided on by the LCC, will then be spread across the different areas of Leeds, (called Housing Market Characteristic Areas (HMCA)) including Aireborough.   This will be based on different housing market characteristics.

When all this is done, the new Core Strategy 2017 – 2033 will be consulted on and will then have to go for yet another examination by a Planning Inspector.  Realistically that is not going to happen before the end of 2018.

If green belt land is removed from the Core Strategy Site Allocation Plan 2012 – 2028 in October 2017 and is not used immediately,  it will be allocated as land to be used in future (PAS or Safeguarded land).  Should Leeds fall behind once again on its 5 year land supply the PAS land will become the keen subject of immediate planning applications.

What is the reduction in housing need for the Core Strategy 2012 – 2028?

In reality we don’t know exactly,  but good estimates can be made as follows

Houses built April 2012 – March 2017           13,824  (4,476 less than target over 5 years)

Houses required April 2017 – March 2028    38,016   (55,296/16 = 3,456pa, x 11 years)

Total – 51,840

What is the likely need for land for housing 2012 – 2033?

Green belts have to have permanence according to law, therefore, changes to the Green Belt must consider housing need beyond a plan period.  So,

Housing need 2012 – 2028  51,840

Housing need 2028 – 2033  17, 280  (5 years at 3,456pa)

Total land required for housing site allocations – 69,120

You can take off land for windfall sites,  and add on the under delivery target of 4,476,  but in essenc,  as of August 2017, the known land needed for houses in the City of Leeds between 2012 and 2033 is just under 70,000 !!!   What happens to this is ultimately down to Leeds City Council; that is the power the Localism Act 2011 gave Local Authorities.

Planning Context

To the above we will add, that there are other major players in the planning of houses including

  • what the Government does with its Housing White Paper,
  • what Volume Developers and their agents do in the SAP hearings and with their viability modeling,
  • what conclusion the Planning Inspectors come to in the SAP hearings in October.

The UK housing market is broken, and the Leeds Core Strategy is a mess.  With the current direction of travel we will end up with large areas of green belt being built on,  a lack of brownfield regeneration, and a housing stock that does not have enough smaller or easily purchasable properties,  and does not meet future trends in the type of houses actually needed for an ageing population.

Sorry to be the Soothsayer in Julius Caesar – but this is the situation we are all in.  Only clear and factual analysis of the issues and need, and an emphasis on proper spatial planning for place making will find a way through this.   There are moves by planning bodies such as the Town and Country Planning Association and Council for the Protection of Rural England to address this situation, and the ANDF is inputing the Neighbourhood Plan evidence where we can.  Even some in LCC see the need to change course, but ……………………………..

PS  Bradford MDC passed their Core Strategy with 42,100 houses many on Green Belt in Wharfedale, by 39 to 38 votes on Tuesday evening.