Leeds school fields campaign victory ‘could set a benchmark for refusing other unwanted developments’

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A successful community campaign to halt a major student flat development on former school fields in Leeds could now be used as the benchmark for stopping other unwanted developments - and helping restore “balance” the city’s neighbourhoods.

A Government inspector has recently thrown out a developer’s appeal against Leeds council’s refusal of permission for 262 bedsits - in seven separate blocks. - on land at Victoria Road, Headingley.

The decision was the culmination of a five-year long saga, as local campaigners tried to save the land - which was part of the former Leeds Girls High School’s swimming pool and sports field - from development, and preserve it for community use. They said it was one of very few open green spaces in the area.

At a meeting of the South and West Plans Panel yesterday, councillors asked if the case could now be used as an exemplar for deciding other applications for large student blocks.

Planning officers said the decision “lends support to the policies that we have” and there will be “implications” for any further bids for student housing in the area.

In his recent appeal decision, the inspector said the flats would be “in an area with an existing excessive concentration of student accommodation that has had, and continues to have, a significant detrimental effect on the balance and wellbeing of communities”. He added that allowing the development to go ahead would “add to many of the adverse social and other effects that flow from that imbalance”.

During the earlier inquiry, he had heard from members of the Hyde Park Neighbourhood Forum. The meeting heard the case had been a “particularly good example of the council working with the local community, and the community were able to add considerable value to the council’s technical planning case with their experiences on the ground”.

The meeting heard that although students bring a lot of positives to the city, the problem is the impact of “high concentrations” of accommodation blocks in particular areas.

Councillors were told the vast majority of anti-social behaviour and noice nuisance compplaints in the city are centred on the Hyde Park and Headingley areas.

The inspector had noted there would be some benefits to the development but they only had “moderate weight” and “would not outweigh the harm”.

Coun Mick Coulson urged colleagues to be more thorough on their preparatory work on a future scheme, as he fully expected one to come forward for the site.

“Is it worth arguing about green space again? Because we have wasted five years doing that,” he said.

Local MP Greg Mulholland, who had also backed locals’ campaign, said earlier that the he application was “wholly inappropriate” and also would have seen the loss of the playing field.

He praised the work of the Hyde Park Neighbourhood Forum, the South Headingley Community Association and the Hyde Park Olympic Legacy Group for their “excellent work in opposing this development.

But he added: “Both the developer and Leeds City Council need to think again about the future of this site. This site represents a previous one off opportunity to secure a playing field for local schools and the community. Leeds City should now seek to buy the site to secure it for school and community use for generations to come”.

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