Bitter end to Leeds school field saga for local campaigners

Campaigners on the site of the old Leeds Girl' High School sports facilities in 2012.
Campaigners on the site of the old Leeds Girl' High School sports facilities in 2012.
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A SEVEN year battle to preserve a former private school’s playing field and sports hall for community use has been lost, after permission for a housing development on the site was finally granted.

Planning chiefs last night approved the proposals for homes and a convenience store on the former Leeds Girls’ High School site in Victoria Road, Headingley.

However councillors stressed they approved the scheme “reluctantly” and with “heavy hearts”.

The decision came following legal advice, because refusing the application - first submitted a year ago - was expected to lead to an appeal. If the council lost that appeal - which was felt likely - it would be left with a hefty legal bill.

During almost two hours of debate, councillors and officers all stressed their recognition of the need for community space in the area.

The discussion also kept diverting to the nearby Royal Park School site, which was recently bulldozed, and fledgeling plans for a green space on that site. The council has promised to pump money into that space and keep it for the community rather than selling it. However campaigners insist this still does not justify or compensate for the loss of the Victoria Road field.

The meeting was told that despite sympathy for campaigners, “we are not confident that [a refusal] can be robustly defended”. “We are very acutely aware of local sensitivities, but we have to offer our objective planning advice as best we see it,” planning officer Matthias Franklin said.

The meeting also heard that an additional and voluntary community cash contributions package has been made available by the developer.

Committee chairman councillor James McKenna said there had been “very clear advice” from the council’s lawyers. However he praised campaigners’ efforts, adding: “It’s quite right that they fight for every blade of grass in their area.”

After the meeting, campaigner Sue Buckle said the decision was not so much a shock as the “messy discussion”. She acknowledged that councillors had a difficult decision to make.

“They had a choice between doing the moral thing and landing the council with costs, or voting the way they did. We just feel so angry because it’s money that has been the deciding factor over people’s wellbeing and quality of life.”

Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland, who has backed the community campaign from the start, said: “I am extremely disappointed by the decision to allow development on the Victoria Road playing fields”.

He said decision-makers had missed a “once in a lifetime opportunity to save playing fields for our future generations” and ignored the needs of local schools and the community.

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