AN unprecedented wave of development across Leeds will transform the city, with tens of thousands of homes set to be built over the next 15 years to address critical housing shortages.
A Government inspector is due to report back imminently on council proposals for 70,000 new homes to be built by 2028.
They would be made up of a jigsaw of major developments, some already planned, and others to be designed. The deadline for Leeds’s bid for up to £100m of infrastructure funding - vital to any long term ambitions for housing - is also a month away.
Today, as the double D-Day approaches, civic and business leaders have backed the city’s long-term vision for growth. They say that with major projects like HS2 acting as a catalyst, the city is on course for a period of “visionary developments on a scale never before seen”.
CITY MUST BUILD ITS WAY TO A BETTER FUTURE
IF Leeds’s housing vision becomes a reality it will pave the way for huge economic growth and success, city leaders have claimed.
Proposals for 70,000 new homes - part of a 15-year development vision - are currently with a Government planning inspector, and he is expected to report back imminently.
However, questions have consistently been raised about whether that target number is a realistic or necessary one.
Campaigners recently called on Leeds city council housing bosses to be more transparent about the numbers, claiming the targets were inflated.
But the statistics would seem to back the authority’s admittedly ambitious forward planning. Leeds’s population is predicted to increase from around 755,000 to more than 860,000 in 2028 - a jump of more than 100,000.
The last census showed that Leeds has 320,600 ‘households’. Assuming that the city does eventually build 70,000 new homes, and each home is filled, we will have almost 400,000 households.
The 70,000 homes target is part of Leeds’s draft Core Strategy, which lays out the long term spatial visions, objectives and policies for the city.
To support that document, the council has put together a Site Allocation Plan, its 15-year development vision, which plans for anticipated population changes and housing needs in the context of wider ambitions.
The document is not a substantive list of sites that will be developed, but rather an exploratory piece of research designed to ensure that sufficient land is available in appropriate locations to meet the targets set out in the Core Strategy, which will be adopted once and if it is approved by the Government inspector. However, the authority has already earmarked several sites that it believes are ripe for development.
Some of these projects are already in the pipeline, and others are yet to be envisioned. They include 7,000 homes on the East Leeds Extension, 5,000 as part of the ‘South Bank’ regeneration vision and 2,000 near Thorp Arch, Wetherby.
Leeds City Council’s chief executive, Tom Riordan, this week stressed the importance of new housing to the city’s overall future success.
Addressing an academic audience at Leeds Met University, he laid out Leeds’s wider ambitions for infrastructure, health, tackling poverty and other key issues.
He believes that the 70,000 target is not only realistic - but vital to the city’s growth.
“It will be, if it’s approved, the biggest development of housing outside London and the South-East, the biggest in the country,” Mr Riordan said.
“That single development in Leeds is the equivalent of a new garden city. But it won’t be an urban sprawl.
“It will be delivered in keeping with the federal nature of Leeds as a city...in a very sensitive way.
“I believe it will give us the growth we need, opportunities for business and economic success.
“It’s about the whole city, and the experience people have of coming here and working here and living here.”
For Leeds’s housing boss, Coun Peter Gruen, the issue of housing shortages is more complex than mere targets.
The problem lies not so much in the numbers, he says, but in who builds the homes, where they build them and how much cash they are willing to pump into local communities.
Responding to criticism of the housing targets, Coun Gruen admitted they were “ambitious”.
“We know the we are at the upper range of what we think is realistic,” he said. “And I have acknowledged that lots of communities and interested groups think a figure of 50 or 60,000 is more realistic.
“Yet the house builders say 100,000 is more realistic - they would wouldn’t they?
“What people forget is that it’s over 14 years, and we have said it needs the economy to be better than in recent years to get there.
“What scares people more is if they think it’s all going to be on green belt. But we have said very clearly that our policy is to use brownfield first.”
Coun Gruen is particularly critical of “greedy” volume house-builders who he says are keen to take advantage of lax planning law and build on the green belt, but too often unwilling to invest in the infrastructure needed to support that. He said developers are often loathe to build on brownfield land - previously developed dormant sites - first, because of lower profit margins. This is despite those kind of sites actually being easier to secure.
“If it’s brownfield land, it’s deemed favourably in planning terms, so if we put something good quality, with good transport links, planning permission will follow fairly quickly,” he said.
“We are desperate to stimulate the market, and to get people to actually come forward and start building,” Coun Gruen added. “The tragedy is that if the house builders worked together with the communities and with us, and weren’t greedy about it, [we could have] a legacy to be proud of.”
Leeds city council is currently putting the final touches to its bid for part of a major £2bn pot of Government infrastructure funding, the deadline for which is next month.
It is estimated that Leeds’s rightful share of the Local Growth Fund - part of the Government’s new regional devolution plans - could be around £100m. It is acknowledged that securing this cash will be vital to many of the city’s long term infrastructure and development ambitions.
CITY’S HOUSING VISION: SOME KEY NUMBERS
- According to the 2011 census, Leeds has a population of 751,500 living in 320,600 households.
- If the city builds 70,000 homes, and each home is filled, we will have almost 400,000 households.
- Sites already identified for major housing include 7,000 homes along the East Leeds Extension, 5,000 as part of the city’s ‘South Bank’ regeneration vision and 2,000 homes near Thorp Arch, Wetherby.
- Leeds’s population is predicted to increase to more than 860,000 in 2028 - a jump of more than 100,000.
- The number of pupils in the city’s primary schools could soar by more than 11,000 in the next three years, leading to a massive shortfall in school places.
- 8,000 people responded to an initial consultation about the Site Allocation Plan last year. The final draft is expected to be submitted to the Secretary of State early in 2015. The final development plan could be adopted later that year.