Jonathan Morgan: Need to change view on Leeds development

Jonathan Morgan.
Jonathan Morgan.
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The development of Leeds as a Northern Powerhouse is being held back by planning red tape and a lack of forward thinking says a leading city property expert.

Jonathan Morgan has spoken exclusively to City Buzz about issues challenging the city which fly in face of the hype being created by developments such as Victoria Gate.

While retail additions to the city cannot be disputed, with the £165m centre launch three weeks ago and the Trinity Centre in 2013, when it comes to residential development, Leeds presents a different picture.

The managing director of Morgan City Living said: “People talk about Manchester and how forward thinking and successful it is, why isn’t Leeds as forthright and risk friendly?”

He referred to the 19th century when steam power was at the forefront of industry and Leeds was leading the way as mills were being built in Holbeck at a rate of knots and so influential were these developers they had schools and streets named after them.

“We don’t have that entrepreneurial risk friendly, ballsy demeanour that our forefathers had and it is a mystery to me.” he adds ruefully.

But he does have one suggestion and it is that Leeds City Council’s planning process is off putting to potential developers.

He recalls having a client who was almost in tears of frustration after attending a planning meeting to discuss the affordable housing percentage of a development earmarked for Holbeck but councillors kept referring to design 
details.

These had been ironed out at a series of meetings the previous year and despite the client being summoned to the meeting he says they were not allowed a right to reply.

In another instance he claims that a developer, looking at taking on Tower Works and creating a mix of apartments, commercial and retail and leisure space, was so disgusted when a member fell asleep in the meeting they will not consider working in Leeds.

Mr Morgan said: “Everyone in the city wants to see activity at Holbeck, it has been a stalled project for 10 to 20 years and the other client is based in Manchester and doing big schemes in Birmingham, the West Riding and North Wales.

“They are seriously big strategic developers and they will never work in Leeds again.

This has caused Mr Morgan to question whether the councillors voting and debating on such large scale schemes should have recognised planning qualifications and that decisions should be made with a greater degree of impartiality.

He said: “Architects have trained for five or six years. Planners train for three or four years, then you have a majority group of people sat around a table and not one of them is qualified to comment on large scale developments.”

Without changes or a re-think - the consequences will be huge he warns.

A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said: “The City Plans Panel tends to deal with the most significant planning proposals. To date in 2016 it has met 12 times and has agreed officer recommendations to approve 11 major residential proposals for over 5,500 new residential. Members work closely with officers and support officer work throughout the process.”

Carl DAmmassa, Group Managing Director  Business Finance, Aldermore

Aldermore supports more than £1bn of asset finance to UK businesses in 2017