Mrs Justice Lieven has now handed down final judgement following the Aireborough Neighbourhood Development Forum’s successful challenge to the Green Belt deletions in the Leeds Site Allocation Plan (SAP 2019). All the Green Belt sites in the Leeds SAP have now been put back in the Green Belt (list) until such time as any case for the exceptional circumstances to change the boundary has been officially approved. The Judge said she had found a number of errors of law in the SAP and that this affected all the allocated Green Belt sites in Leeds, not just those in Aireborough.
As a consequence the SAP 2019 will now be sent back (remitted) to the Secretary of State to appoint an Inspector to determine with LCC whether the Leeds housing need up to 2023 requires changes to the Green Belt, or not. The Judge said this was a matter of planning judgement for the relevant bodies; it was not for the Court to determine.
The remittal will require the updating of LCC evidence; the judge was critical of the “enormously confusing documentation and figures” faced by the Inspectors at the last hearings. She also said
“The Council appears to be seeking to characterise the errors [of law] as being in the Inspectors’ reasons and, as such, capable of being remedied by simply requiring the Inspectors to provide further reasons. This is not correct. The errors of law included a material error of fact giving rise to an error of law …….A direction simply to provide further reasoning would not remedy this error.”
The remittal exercise will also need to be mindful of the unlawful elements, namely
- The calculations on housing need and land requirements
- Clear reasoning for exceptional circumstances for Green Belt release, if it is required.
- The use of Housing Market Area targets for choosing allocations
We are pleased that the judgement means that Leeds City Council does still have a Site Allocation Plan (SAP 2019), with a 5 year land supply, to guide development decisions – the only change has been the removal of the Green Belt sites. Without a SAP, the Council was fearful that developers would again bypass regeneration sites whilst ‘picking off’ desirable greenfield sites and appealing when they were turned down – a situation which has cost LCC an inordinate amount of money over the last decade. The July 2020 LCC Development Plan Panel Report states that with the removal of the Green Belt sites the City ‘would still retain a 5 year land supply‘ (point 2.17). A similar statement was also made in signed Court documents indicating a reduction in the land supply from the current 7 years to 6 years in the event of the GB sites being removed.
Any changes to the Leeds Green Belt now rest on whether there are truly “exceptional circumstances”, and no alternatives, justifying the use of Green Belt sites to fulfil the new* Core Strategy housing need up to 2023 (the timeframe for SAP 2019). At the same time LCC are currently planning a SAP Review to allocate sites for housing need from 2023 – 2033. This too will look at whether Green Belt sites are required. It was interesting to note in the July Leeds Development Plan Panel Report on the Local Plan that LCC view the removal of the Aireborough Green Belt sites from the SAP as having “minimal impact on the Council’s housing land supply” : sites that in Aireborough are so important to historic character and sustainability, including a flood plain and a working farm !!
How these two SAP processes are to be handled and what the parameters will be is a decision for the Secretary of State, Planning Inspectorate and LCC. For Aireborough it is now important that we move towards finalising the Neighbourhood Plan with a view to the latest planning changes announced by the Government on 6th August 2020 in their consultation document Planning For The Future.
Our view of the judgement is that it is both fair and sensible – we’d like to thank Mrs Justice Lieven and our legal team, barrister Jenny Wigley of Landmark Chambers, and Town Legal, London. Of course, this could not have been achieved without the help and support of a large number of people across Aireborough; we’d like to thank every person who donated, supported and generally gave encouragement through what has been a challenging time.
*A new housing need figure of 51,952 from 2017 – 2033 was approved in Sept 2019. This replaced the 70,000 target from 2012 -2028 in the Core Strategy 2014.