Leeds: 325 homes plan for farm land gets the nod despite objections

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CONTROVERSIAL plans for 325 new homes on farming fields in Wetherby have been approved by planning chiefs - despite a raft of objections from environmental campaigners, residents and the local MP.

Leeds City Council had received almost 300 objections to the proposals for a development at Spofforth Hill. The site is on 15.7 hectares of agricultural land on the link road between Wetherby and Harrogate.

The land was previously designated green belt, but was reclassified to allow development.

Among the objectors to the scheme was local Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke. A report presented to the City Plans Panel today (Thursday, Sep 18) said: “Alec Shelbrooke MP raises concerns on behalf of his constituents. Housing requirements are based on out of date figures as the recession and the increased controls on immigration have reduced housing demand. This would be an unnecessary expansion of Wetherby and would put pressure on local traffic and services.”

A heated planning meeting at Leeds Civic Hall today heard from local residents as well as the applicant, Bellway Homes.

Resident and campaigner Jim Walton said: “The council should look to protect good land. There is food poverty and an unprecendented number of food banks.

“We are going to be 2million hectares short of food producing land by 2030 according to a study by the University of Cambridge.

“Small as it might be, you set a precedent. If one council takes away agricultural land it would be death by 1,000 cuts.

“Why do we need houses? Increasing population. And they are going to need to be fed. Food prices are not going to get any better and it starts here.”

Rob Smith, spokesman for Bellway Homes and the landowners, told the decision-making panel that planning permission would “provide demonstrable housing benefits in Wetherby as well as providing a double benefit of providing housing in the city”.

Wetherby Conservative councillor John Procter said there were “still big questions to be answered”, and stressed he could not support “the release of what is a greenfield site”.

Before the crunch decision, which has come after a 15-month process, locals had expressed concerns that the development would increase rat-running. The council for the Protection of Rural England also waded in, saying the development was “unnecessarily large and would have a detrimental visual impact”.

There had also been major concerns about the reduced level of affordable housing being offered by developer Bellway Homes.

Housing policy for the area specified a 35 per cent affordable housing quota. But the firm wants to provide just 15 per cent cheaper homes on the site - and pay an £8.5m “commuted” cash lump sum instead.

After extended debate, the plans panel approved the application on principle, subject to the signing of further agreements and a full community contributions package.

Sarah Champion MP

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