Leeds City Council has reaffirmed its commitment to meeting local housing growth needs after drawing up proposals to end the uncertainty surrounding green belt sites.
Councillors are set to consider a proposal for 37 green belt sites to be removed from Leeds’s Site Allocations Plan (SAP) and retained as green belt land. The SAP is a key planning policy document which serves to allocate land for future housing, office, industrial and retail use in the city.
It was adopted by the council in July 2019 after a rigorous process of preparation and public consultation that lasted six years, as well as an independent examination by planning inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
A subsequent High Court judgment following a legal challenge brought by Aireborough Neighbourhood Forum, in relation to four green belt sites in Guiseley and Yeadon, found that the 37 sites should be temporarily removed from the SAP, pending further examination by the planning inspectors and the Secretary of State. The neighbourhood forum claimed the council had acted wrongly in its approach to releasing these sites, and by later adopting the SAP on the basis of that specific approach.
Four grounds raised in the claim were rejected or not allowed to proceed by the judge in the case, Mrs Justice Lieven. The claim was allowed on a further three grounds that related to three legal errors on the part of the government planning inspectors. None of these three grounds found that the council itself had proceeded unlawfully, or had taken a legally flawed approach to the SAP.
A report by council officers compiled for a meeting of the council’s Development Plan Panel later this month says that, since the adoption of the SAP, consultation with developers and land owners has shown that Leeds now has enough land to more than meet its housing requirements up to 2028 without the need for further green belt land release.
- The updated land supply evidence shows there is land to accommodate 35,000 new homes (11,000 homes more than is required).
- A six-week public consultation process seeking views on the proposed removal of the 37 sites from the SAP is scheduled to begin in January, subject to approval by the council’s executive board.
- The rest of the SAP remains adopted and would be unaffected by the removal of the green belt sites from the allocations list.
Leeds City Council’s executive member for climate change, transport and sustainable development, Councillor Lisa Mulherin said:
“The Site Allocations Plan has been a huge undertaking for the council and one that will shape the places where people live, work and spend time for many years to come.
“The removal of these 37 sites from the plan will bring certainty for residents and investors and help us get on with the job of ensuring that the city’s housing needs are being met.”
Leeds City Council’s Development Plan Panel chair, Councillor Neil Walshaw said:
“Removing these green belt sites from the SAP will draw a line in the sand and give all parties an opportunity to work together to deliver the high quality housing that people in Leeds deserve.
“We need to look at the bigger picture when it comes to our housing requirements, taking in employment, transport, climate change and of course our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a positive step as we near the end of a process that has been carried out with a wide range of stakeholders and generated significant public interest.”
Giving her judgment in June this year, Mrs Justice Lieven noted the level and complexity of the work undertaken by the council on the SAP, which covers a total of 668 housing sites across the city.
She said: “I am intensely conscious of the very difficult situation that the council has found itself in, and the truly massive task of the SAP process.
“I have significant sympathy with the council trying to deal with such large amounts both of housing requirements but also so many sites across a very diverse area.”
The council’s new SAP report will be considered by the Development Plan Panel on December 11, while the executive board is due to discuss the proposed public consultation on December 16.
The Site Allocations Plan went through a lengthy and considered process of preparation and public consultation, lasting six years. This involved carefully assessing sites that had been put forward for development throughout the city and deciding which were the most appropriate and sustainable to allocate for development, in accordance with local and national policy. The plan was the subject of independent examination by the Secretary of State’s appointed planning inspectors, who found it sound and legally compliant.
The errors of the independent inspectors (not of the council) identified by Mrs Justice Lieven were (1) legally deficient reasons given in their report on: (a) justifying the release of the specific green belt sites and on (b) site selection process; and (2) an error of fact relating to the calculated increase in supply of housing (mainly in the city centre) during the process. The judge did not find that green belt sites could not properly be released and nor did she find that the site selection process was in error.
The examination of the SAP by the independent inspectors was conducted during 16 days of public hearings in 2018, with the views of 470 participants being heard and more than 75,000 representations being received.
Local authorities are required by the National Planning Policy Framework to maintain a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites. Leeds City Council currently has a 6.8-year supply, which is advocated by government, offering choice and competition across a range of markets and providing flexibility to remain robust against the inherent uncertainty of events over a plan period. Having in excess of a five-year supply is necessary to prevent inappropriate speculative development.
For more information please visit Site Allocations Plan (leeds.gov.uk)