When Exceptional Circumstances Are Not Exceptional !

The Four Aireborough Green Belt Sites To Be Released for Development

On a very wet Saturday, a crowded room at Guiseley Theatre heard how the Leeds Site Allocation Plan (SAP) had given little weight to the environment or the character of the countryside in their decision to release four Green Belt sites for development in Aireborough under exceptional circumstances.

Both David Cove, Chair of CPRE* West Yorkshire, and Jennifer Kirkby , Chair of the Aireborough Neighbourhood Forum explained that Green Belt sites had been released by Leeds City Council under the ‘exceptional circumstances’ planning rule. (NPPF 79 – 85)

Dr Cove explained that this was a poorly defined area of planning policy that was being increasingly used by Local Authorities across the country to release Green Belt. He demonstrated, to gasps from the audience, the latest findings in the CPRE October 2019 report Space to Breathe copy here.

Meanwhile, Mrs Kirkby demonstrated how the Council had set a 3% housing target (of the total Leeds housing requirement) for an Aireborough Housing Market Area, based on land supply – regardless of whether it met Green Belt purpose or not. The Council had then used this 3% figure, rather than actual housing need in Aireborough, as their exceptional circumstances. She said this was in direct contrast to 2006 when the Green Belt around Aireborough had been deliberately, tightly set in order to stop urban sprawl, ” so the previous Green Belt purpose policy, was behind the setting of a ‘spurious’ housing area target, which was in turn used as exceptional circumstances to release Green Belt” .

She continued, that the Council in their Green Belt Review had not looked at the importance of the natural capital of the land such as flood prevention or the strategic importance of landscape character to the area. The evidence for both had been provided to the Council and the Inspector by the Forum from their research.

Neither had the Council looked for areas of the City where Green Belt purpose was more flexible – as previous Leeds Plans in 2001 and 2006 had done, and as the Core Strategy Inspector had required. Yet, the Council knew full well the City was more restricted on the Western side: Dr Cove said CPRE was very concerned about the coalescence of Leeds and Bradford.

Mrs Kirkby said that the Forum knew that Aireborough had need for smaller properties for young couples, downsizers and independent living. In the emerging Neighbourhood Plan, and with the help of the Academy of Urbanism, the Forum had suggested ways for these to be accommodated on smaller brownfield sites within the urban environment. However, many of these small brownfield sites are not counted towards the 3% Aireborough target and Leeds City Council could not be dissuaded to use this as an alternative to their strategy of releasing larger Green Belt sites in the area. The Planning Inspector had subsequently passed the Leeds SAP as sound without answering the Forum’s many concerns and suggestions – including those outlined by a Barrister ANDF had employed.

Therefore, the Forum had little choice but to ask for a Judicial Review of the SAP process and logic on behalf of Aireborough residents. Mrs Kirkby said that given the continuing 3% housing target the Council would like want to release more Green Belt sites in the next SAP which has already started. A practice strongly criticised by CPRE as Green Belts were meant to have longevity.

In follow up questions to Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPC) for Airborough, Stuart Andrew (Conservative) and Box Buxton (Yorkshire Party), both said that the policy of exceptional circumstances for Green Belt release needed to be tightened up at national level. However, Leeds City Council did have other alternatives to building on Green Belt including just over 90 brownfield sites that had not been included in the SAP. Dr Cove said that Developers had persuaded the Council that the sites were not ‘viable’ ie profitable.

How You Can Help

After a lively questions and answers session with input from ANDF members, local ward Councillors for G&R and Y&O**, PPCs and G&R Labour Party Chair, Andrew Thomson, the meeting broke for refreshments, and for people to look at what they could do to help. Many people made donations to the Judicial Review fund and over £1,000 was raised.

Altogether, £20,000 is currently needed for the court hearings on the ANDF Claim against Leeds City Council. The Forum is asking that at least 4,000 household give £10 to spread the cost – but large amounts are always welcome. Residents can also make pledges for larger sums if they wish, to be called in when legal bills arrive. Email aireboroughnp@gmail.com for a pledge letter to complete. You can find ways to donate here. The link to the Local Giving appeal is here.

The next Forum event will be a 5 mile Sponsored Walk on 28th December 2019, put together by Landscape Photographer, Darren Sanderson. The aim will be for walkers to help with the crowdfunding, but also for a social way to walk off any Christmas excess and explore the Aireborough landscape – as it now is !!

Route for Sponsored Walk – brown line
  • *Council for the Protection of Rural England
  • ** Guiseley & Rawdon, Otley & Yeadon