Committee split as TV Harrison fields 61 homes plan eventually approved

Plans to build dozens of houses on an historic Leeds football pitch have been approved by the narrowest of margins at a Leeds planning meeting this week.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 11:39 am
Updated Friday, 24th September 2021, 11:40 am

Outline plans for around 61 new council houses are now one step closer to being built on the former Leeds City Boys playing fields at Oldfield Lane, Wortley, following a tense vote by members of Leeds City Council’s City Plans Panel.

Of the 10 panel members present, five voted for and five voted against the proposals, leaving the chair of the committee, Coun Eileen Taylor (Lab) with the casting vote.

The site was once home to the Leeds City Boys football team, where football legends such as David Batty, Brian Deane and Stuart McCall first made their names.

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The fate of the TV Harrison sports ground is to be decided by Leeds City Council. Picture: Steve Riding.

Campaigners against the development had said such a move would “destroy” a beloved community football pitch that was left to the people of Leeds nearly 100 years ago. However, applicants Leeds City Council said there was a shortage of affordable homes in the area, and that other playing pitches were available nearby on Wortley Recreation Ground.

The plans had previously been approved by the council earlier this year, but were subsequently overturned following a legal challenge.

Addressing the meeting, campaigner Claire O’Keefe said: “It is a community asset. We have the right to bid and we have a business plan and there has been movement this morning on sources of funding.

“Surplus is not defined by quality.

“The deficiency of outdoor space in Wortley is 12 acres. Armley is also deficient, so Wortley Rec is given to them as part of their allocation.

“What we have done in our community is a miracle. We want to play football in the heart of our community.”

Since the plans came to light in 2019, members of the community have since been looking after the football pitch and have held charity events on the site.

The meeting also heard that a judicial review was currently taking place into why the council did not declare the site an asset of community value. But a council legal officer told the meeting that, even if the site was to be declared as such, it would not offer any protection from development.

When asked about Wortley Recreation Ground, Ms O’Keefe said: “There are five pitches – it is not a football pitch, it is a ski slope – you spend more time chasing a football in a gale force wind. There are no toilets, no changing and no parking, and it is not in the heart of our community – it is up a hill.”

Liam Brook from the council’s housing growth scheme, supporting the application, said: “This site has a housing allocation, confirmed in 2019.

“We will provide onsite greenspace, as well as making an off-site contribution for sports facilities.

“The new homes will be highly energy efficient. They will exceed the requirements and building regulations.

“There remains an acute need for good quality affordable housing across the city. In the Farnley and Wortley ward, there is a waiting list of over 500 households seeking a home. Over 100 of those are in the highest priority banding and need good quality affordable accommodation.”

Commenting on the application, Coun Colin Campbell (Lib Dem) said: “I am having problems supporting the application. I know there is a demand for housing, and there is a huge demand for affordable housing, but I’m not certain that because that is a good point, we should do a bad thing and lose a green space.”

Coun Dawn Collins (Con) said: “I do agree that we need affordable homes, but this site is owned by two organisations who should have been looking after this site. To come and say today that it is in poor condition and therefore we should put housing on it is not fair to the local community.

“Our officers need to go away and consider whether they can do better, and potentially split the site so they can still have the sports facilities that people in that area desperately want to keep.”

But Coun Paul Wray (Lab) hit back at other members, accusing them of ignoring the authority’s own planning policy to curry favour with the public.

He said: “On a personal level I feel incredibly sorry for the residents of this area.

“But we are here to make difficult decisions on the requirements of what this city needs between green space, economic development and housing.

“Based on policies which we have adopted, and some people in this room are choosing to ignore for convenience, this meets those qualifications.

“As much as it pains me, if we are to stand on policy and process, as we so often like to do, then we are being hypocrites if we don’t approve it.

“I accept there is potential to split this site up and compromise, but to pretend that this has not gone through rigour just because it sounds good on a recording that will go out to the public is not how we do policy in this council.”

The site, known as the TV Harrison field was used for sport following local headteacher Thomas Vernon Harrison helping to raise £1,200 back in 1931 to buy the land for the children to use.

Since then it had become home to Leeds City Boys, which featured the best young players from Leeds schools until the site was closed in 2004.

More detailed plans, known as reserved matters, are expected to be produced by Leeds City Council officers in the coming months.