Will 1,000-home brownfield boom help solve housing crisis in Leeds?

An artist's impression of the Seacroft development
An artist's impression of the Seacroft development
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Leeds Council plans bosses have signed off a raft of housing applications which will bring 971 new homes to derelict sites in the east of the city. But not everyone is happy. Aisha Iqbal reports.

Almost 1,000 new houses are to be built on council-owned land in east Leeds in what civic bosses hope will be a major boost to regeneration in the area.

Applications to build a total of 971 new homes across eight brownfield - or previously developed and now derelict - sites in Seacroft, Halton Moor and Osmondthorpe in phases over the next 10 years have all been approved by Leeds City Council’s North and East Plans Panel.

All of the developments form part of the council’s Brownfield Land Programme of building.

The new homes - to be built by Keepmoat and Strata - will be a mix of two, three and four-bed houses, and will include a proportion of affordable housing.

The brownfield bonanza was welcomed today by Leeds City Council executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, councillor Richard Lewis, who said: “We are delighted to see these applications be approved, as they are very important to continue the growing momentum of regeneration in east Leeds through housing growth and choice as well as offering potential local job and training opportunities.

“Bringing cleared sites back into use means that there is already infrastructure either ready and waiting or able to be reactivated with some support, whether this is health centre, schools, roads or bus services.

“Schemes like these demonstrate our commitment to a brownfield-focussed approach to delivering much-needed new housing in Leeds.”

Councillor Neil Walshaw, who chairs the North and East Plans Panel, also welcomed the boost.

He said the prices of the homes “will be at the more affordable end” and it was “the right programme for this area”, adding to its diversity.

As previously reported, Leeds’s Core Strategy development plan for the next decade proposes that 70,000 new homes need to be built by 2028 to meet growing demand and population increases.

The east Leeds planning approvals come in the wake of the council signing off its controversial Site Allocations Plan (SAP) which lays out a blueprint for the proposed locations of those 70,000 homes.

The document, which will now go to the Secretary of State for approval before an expected public examination in the summer and a final consultation, could be enshrined into local planning policy by the end of the year.

In total, 763 sites have been identified to provide the swathes of new homes across all 11 geographical housing areas of the city, with every area being allocated at least three per cent of the new homes total.

The overall percentage split would see 62 per cent of developments on brownfield land.

Despite this, critics have long argued that too many locations identified in the plan are in the city’s cherished green belt.

The matter was raised again at the latest full council meeting at Leeds Civic Hall, where Conservative councillor Ryan Stephenson, who represents the Harewood ward, urged the ruling Labour administration to “revise down your housing target...and relieve communities in the Harewood ward and across this city from the inappropriate, unnecessary and unwanted development on greenfield and greenbelt sites in this city while urban brownfield stands undeveloped”.

Councillor Graham Hyde, Labour councillor for Killingbeck and Seacroft, said the latest raft of planning approvals represented 33 hectares of brownfield land being developed over a number of years.

He urged colleagues across the political parties to stop “bickering” about greenfield or brownfield, and recognise that a compromise was the only way forward.

“It has to be a compromise. It has to be greenfield AND brownfield,” he said.

“The [site allocations] plan is [about] brownfield.

“But the interesting thing is that her majesty’s Government says we can’t do brownfield sites first.

“We have lobbied Government on this but we get the same answer, ‘no you can’t do it’. This plan has to go through. Because otherwise, developers will come along and they will choose easy development sites, which are greenfield, as they have done in my ward.

“We have to stop [bickering] about greenfield or brownfield - because that doesn’t help the community.”

A recent study commissioned by the Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE), entitled “Why brownfield first needs to be strengthened” examined the pace of housing development in 15 cities, including Leeds.

It found that in Leeds, of the total 138 house building projects with active planning permission, 23 per cent were on green field land and the rest on brownfield land.

Of the 15 cities in the study, Leeds had the fourth LOWEST proportion of greenfield developments. Corby, in Northamptonshire, had the highest greenfield development rate - 68 per cent.

Overall, brownfield land accounted for 63 per cent of houses with an active planning consent during the three years to March 2015, but 70 per cent of the houses that had been completed by the end of March 2015.

CPRE found that some of the local authorities included in the research “are making efforts to promote brownfield development” and examined how “government policies are undermining these efforts”. It also suggested some reasons why brownfield sites stall more frequently than greenfield sites.

The study also noted: “It is also clear, however, that greenfield land is being released and developed, often after planning appeals, in areas where local authorities want to see brownfield sites being built on first. Much of the greenfield development that has taken place in these areas is arguably unnecessary when there is more than enough brownfield land with planning permission to provide for what has been built.”

The study, published in March 2016, pointed out “obstacles that are preventing residential development from taking place on brownfield land”.

It concluded: “These include land ownership obstacles and physical obstacles such as site preparation costs and the reliance on developers to pay the high cost of remediating contaminated land. National and local planning policy is also currently acting as a barrier to development as it does not contain a sequential approach to land allocation which prioritises brownfield development.”