Next week was to be the start of the Leeds Site Allocation Plan (SAP) hearings where the deletion of Green Belt in Aireborough for housing allocations was to be decided under the exceptional circumstances rule NPPF 83. As a reminder the Green Belt sites proposed for deletion and development by Leeds City Council are/were

  • Wills Gill behind the medieval crofts
  • Banksfield below Yeadon Banks
  • Ings Lane – the fields across to Menston
  • Coach Road – fields down to Springs Wood
  • Gill Lane – fields behind Low Hall
  • Hollins Hill -the top of the hill
  • Victoria Avenue, Yeadon – next to the runway
  • Rawdon off Knott Lane
  • Further land in Leyton Lane and Ings Lane was due to be delisted as Green Belt to put on a list for future use.

We heard on Monday 2nd October that the hearings have now been delayed until Spring 2018 in the light of the Government’s new Housing White Paper released on 14th September. The paper sets out a standard methodology for calculating housing need: since the Localism Act of 2011 it has been down to individual Local Authorities to decide on the detail of their housing need methodology.  DCLG have then used the new method  to estimate what each Local Authority’s housing target is likely to be.  The Leeds figure comes out at 42,000 houses to 2028.

Now, a figure of 42,000 would not need Green Belt.  The Leeds SAP is planned on 75 Green Belt sites delivering just over 12,481 houses and therefore the exceptional circumstances rule which Leeds said was the objectively assessed housing need (OAN) of 70k does not apply.

Hurrah, you might think,  the Green Belt in Aireborough can carry on delivering environmental value such as flood control and wellbeing, along with its green belt role of stopping urban sprawl and settlements merge.  LCC have said they want to use as little Green Belt as possible for housing need – so isn’t everyone happy now?

Well, maybe and maybe not !!  Leeds City Council say they want to look at the site allocation plan for housing again and suggest they might allocate broad areas for potential Green Belt release instead, which they may take at a later date – well we think that is what they are saying.  It is not entirely clear at the moment.

In the meantime, Inspector hearings will go ahead at the end of October 2017 to look at sites allocations for employment, retail and green space – all of which the Aireborough Neighbourhood Development Forum will be attending to give evidence.

After that, we will start to write the Aireborough Neighbourhood Plan,  based on all the evidence we have gathered, including the new Landscape Value, Urban Character and Ecology reports.   The housing policies will be based on the new Housing Needs methodology – this indicated the neighbourhood plan area needs just short of 1,500 houses from 2012 – 2028; down from 2,300 houses under the 70k target.

As, we have already seen nearly 1,000 houses built in that time, with a further 100 windfall properties, we are well on our way to target.  The real issue is ensuring that all further new build is of the right housing type.  Our housing need evidence, supported by external consultants currently reviewing the Leeds housing strategy, is that Aireborough needs smaller properties for singles and young couples, homes for downsizers, self-build plots and retirement properties.

Who Set The 70,000 Housing Target?

Community groups,and representatives in Aireborough have fought a long battle since 2013 to get a sensible housing target.   You can go back through this website and read the story blow-by-blow, as it happened.  You can do the same with websites for WARD, Save Leeds Green Belt, Rawdon Greenbelt Action Group, Yorkshire Green Space Alliance and CPRE.   The historic facts are there for anyone to follow, the documents are there in digital form for anyone to read.

  • The 70k target came from the centrally planned target set by the Government of 2008 in the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for Yorkshire and Humberside – the Leeds target was set at 4,300 houses per year from 2008-2026 (page 159).   At the same time the intention was set to look at the potential for using green belt.
  • In 2011 the Government of that year revoked centrally planned targets in favour of the Localism Act and gave the setting of housing targets back to Local Authorities whom it was considered would know their areas better.  In Leeds, the target housing continued to be 4,375pa between 2012 -2028 (70k).
  • The big issue came when the 2011 census showed that the Leeds population had not grown as much as expected, and was not forecast to grow in the way envisaged by the housing target.   By 2014 when the Inspector’s hearings were underway it was already clear that housing need had fallen substantially: OAN  was supposed to be based on up to date data .   Communities, and local representatives waged a war of ‘data’ with Leeds City Council to change the housing target which was clearly setting the City up for a fall in terms of delivery and taking away precious Green Belt that still served a very important purpose.
  • However, LCC would not budge on the figure, despite developers saying they were unlikely to be able to deliver.  The Inspector passed the Local Plan on the understanding that Leeds continued to monitor the situation and make the relevant changes to keep housing targets based on up to date evidence.  Meanwhile, the SAP with its Green Belt deletions ploughed on to stage after stage, raising angry protest from local residents about the state of the infrastructure – all ignored.
  • The Leeds Core Strategy finally fell over,  as everyone had said it would, in June 2016 at the Grove Road, Boston Spa housing appeal.  The hearing established that not only was housing delivery way behind schedule but, more importantly, LCC  did not have the all important 5 year supply of housing land for their aspirational 70k target.  This meant, the Core Strategy housing policies were out of date, and that opened the door to planning applications on greenfield sites such as Sandgate, Kippax and Silverdale Allotments.
  • At long last Leeds set in train a  Housing Target Review in September 2016, indicating the housing target may reduce to 55 – 60,000.  But, they still carried on with the SAP for 70,000 because of the 5 year land supply issue.
  • By this summer we were left with the situation of a housing review indicating the OAN was now substantially lower, whilst the SAP Green Belt deletion for the higher target was still being planned.   This was nonsensical, and as the Government called time  with their White Paper of 14th September,  barristers hired by community groups were pointing out to the Inspector that this was not sound.    So,  here we are.

Now, we will end by pointing out that the current planning system is not working.   Volume developers have far too much power via appeals and viability calculations,  and communities next to none.   Councils are held to account for a land supply but they are NOT responsible for the delivery of the housing which affects that land supply.  House builders are not going to build more houses if it means over supply and lower prices.  Government’s  have played lip service to the importance of Green Belt, whilst listening to the siren calls of Think Tanks who tell them it is an outdated concept, and the Nimby’s must be killed of.   Meanwhile, the housing market is far too tied into the macro-economy than is healthy,  and it has become established wisdom amongst some ‘experts’ that renting is preferable to house purchase as it means that the workforce is ‘moveable’ – like Europe !!

But, the bottom line is that it is within the gift and power of Leeds City Council to now work with the communities they serve, especially via Neighbourhood Plans, to find the right places in the City for the type and number of houses needed along with the relevant infrastructure, and with much better care and consideration for the environment.  We hope they take that opportunity .