Former home of Leeds City Boys would be ‘destroyed’, say campaigners as TV Harrison council housing plans come one step closer

Plans to build dozens of council houses on the site of football pitches in west Leeds have moved one step closer, after councillors narrowly voted to support early blueprints for the site.

By Richard Beecham
Thursday, 4th March 2021, 4:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th March 2021, 4:59 pm

The field in Oldfield Lane, Wortley, is a former home of Leeds City Boys where the likes of David Batty, Brian Deane and Stuart McCall cut their teeth as young footballers, and has been earmarked by Leeds City Council for 61 council houses.

Campaigners against the development said such a move would “destroy” a beloved community football pitch that was left to the people of Leeds nearly 100 years ago.

Ward councillors, residents and Sport England each lodged objections to the development, and the meeting learned that the pitch, despite being left derelict by the council, had been in use and looked after by members of the local community.

A charity football match which took place on the field in March 2020.

But Council housing officers, claimed the area of Leeds the site sits in suffers from a severe shortage of social housing, with hundreds of households still on the waiting list.

The council’s South and West Plans Panel met to decide on the principle of development on the 1.7 hectare site, which was also included in the council’s Site Allocation Plan document for future housing, approved in 2019.

Objecting to the application, local resident Clare O’Keefe said: “This is not about not wanting social housing. Wortley High School playing field was sold recently, and it was sold to private developers – that made us upset.

“Due to an error in this paper, Farnley and Wortley ward is massively deficient in outdoor sports provision by about 15 acres.

“You are proposing to destroy our heritage playing field which has been in the heart of West Leeds since 1857. It was threatened by development in 1928, and the people of Leeds raised money to buy it.

“It was and is held in trust – the proposals to build on it are unethical, immoral and probably more.

“We are told the lack of pitches in Leeds is being addressed by the Park Life project, and it has been suggested that profits from the sale of this historic playing field will be put into this pot of money – that is money going around in a circle.

“There are no covenants on the lands, but there are trust deeds, which say no money would change hands as long as they kept it as a playing field.

“Our playing field is in use now, it is in daily use. That grass you saw has been done by the community. People are angry that the trust neglected them.

“Neglecting the site should not be an action that is rewarded. I want to see more council housing in leeds but that isn’t an argument for destroying this area.”

Laura Whitehead, project lead for council housing growth scheme, said: “The council housing growth programme is something to be proud of – we have set high standards in build quality and homes in places people can thrive in.

“The new homes will be highly energy efficient and use alternative energy sources. In the Farnley and Wortley ward, there is a waiting list of more than 500 households seeking a home, and 100 of those are in the highest priority bands, and desperately need good quality and affordable accommodation.

“There are no other council-owned sites in this part of the city to help address the needs for those families to stay in the ward close to family, friends and support networks.

“Objections have been raised but we are confident we can address them in our proposals.”

She added the development would still provide some “properly maintained greenspace”.

The site, also 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 officially closed in 2004.

Commenting on the application, Coun Paul Wray (Lab) said: “This is a complicated one. This has been through the rigours of SAP, it was challenged by ward members at the time.

“We do have a dire need for council housing in this city.

“I have to agree with officers that the principle of development has been accepted by SAP. The type of development proposed here is reasonable. As much as it’s a sad loss of greenspace to the local community, that battle was long lost.”

Coun Jackie Shemilt (Con) said: “I have the greatest respect and sympathy for the local community. There is a tremendous amount of history to this site and it has become an emotive subject.

“But at this stage, the community are not in a position to make a proper informed judgement because they don’t have any more detail than what we have seen.”

Coun Kayleigh Brooks (Lab) said: “My heart goes out to the local community. I can see why it’s so emotive.

“But unfortunately we don’t really have any planning reasons to turn this down, as far as I can see it. I will be voting in favour with a heavy heart.”

“I won’t be supporting this,” said Coun Robert Finnigan (Ind). “The site allocations process was a shambles based on unrealistically high targets.

“I accept that we need council houses. But the community need the green space at this particular point. It’s about time we made a stand and protected greenfield sites.”

Coun Barry Anderson (Con) added: “I can’t support it either, although I do recognise the need for council houses in the area.”

The development was passed by five votes to three. More detailed plans are set to go before council planning chiefs later this year.