Leeds councillors admit to not making "fully-informed decision" after rejection of over-55s facility

Leeds city councillors have admitted they were not able to make fully-informed decision on a planning application during the early days of lockdown.

By Richard Beecham
Friday, 11th February 2022, 4:45 am

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It follows the decision of a government planning inspector to overturn the council’s decision to reject plans for an over-55s residential facility in Meanwood back in 2020.

It is normal procedure for planning sub-committee members to visit the sites of planning applications to help them decide whether to support or oppose contentious planning applications.

One of these applications, which went before the council’s North and East Plans Panel, was to build 58 retirement flats on a site off Grove Lane in Meanwood. cc Google

But, during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, members had to instead attend meetings online, and were not allowed to go on group site visits, meaning many often had to make a decision based solely on documents and photographs.

One of these applications, which went before the council’s North and East Plans Panel, was to build 58 retirement flats on a site off Grove Lane in Meanwood.

The plans had been rejected by the committee back in August 2020, as it considered the plans to be “inappropriately overlooking” nearby properties. However, following an appeal from developers, a government planning inspector agreed to overturn the decision and allow the development to take place – an update, along with a site visit, was provided this week for members of the North and East Plans Panel.

During a meeting of the group, Coun Barry Anderson (Con) said: “This was done online, and when we saw it on site today, it was different from the one-dimensional drawings we saw. You could see some of the points the inspector was making.

“It was far more apparent when we saw it today than it was in my recollection when we saw it online. It’s not an excuse, I’m just stating it as it is.”

Coun Elizabeth Nash (Lab), who had arranged her own site visit at the time, said: “I think that shows the importance of site visits. I did visit the site at the time, and I did support the recommendation at the time, and that was because I had been on the site visit at the time.”

Chair of the committee Coun Caroline Gruen (Lab) said: “I would like to say ‘lessons learned’, but we didn’t have a choice when it was all virtual. We had to get on with the job.”

The planning inspector ruled that, while on balance the housing was needed, Leeds City Council had made the decision in good faith, and did not have to pay legal costs for the developer.

A Leeds City Council planning officer said: “From our point of view, it is a validation that when officers bring these forward, members can [make decisions] without fear of having costs awarded against the council.

“It would provide a significant contribution to the over-55s housing needs. It is not ideal to lose an appeal, but it is not a bad outcome overall.”

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