Leeds City Council refusal to buy up Sugar Hill estate an ‘indictment’ on authority’s values - claims

The decision by Leeds City Council not to save a housing estate in Oulton has been described as a “real indictment” of the authority’s values by a senior opposition councillor.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 12:11 pm
Sugar Hill Close. PIC: Simon Hulme

It follows a verdict by a planning inspector earlier this year to allow owners Pemberstone to redevelop the site of 70 houses in Sugar Hill Close and Wordsworth Drive, on the grounds that they are unsafe and falling into disrepair.

Many of the tenants – some of whom have lived in the former Coal Board-owned housing for decades – have since been issued with four-month eviction notices by the owners.

Leeds City Council had been asked by campaign groups to buy up the 70 houses to save the tenants from eviction.

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But a report from the authority's housing officers has said that to buy up the airey prefabs and renovate them to the standard needed would simply be too expensive.

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The document also warned that, while the authority would do what it could to help rehouse people, some may not be able to live in suitable accommodation close-by due to a shortage of housing stock.

Coun Stewart Golton (Lib Dem) told a meeting of the authority’s decision-making executive board: “This paper will be a real disappointment to the residents who live on that estate. There is such a missed opportunity.

“There are [Labour councillors] who often use the phrase ‘those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden’, and when it comes to the delivery of affordable housing and the access to the finance to deliver housing, it is Leeds City Council which is the primary deliverer.

“The council has made a strategic decision when it has been asked to step in to be the organisation with the broadest shoulders and help out a community in distress. They have decided to look at it as less an issue of people and their needs and more of an asset management question.

“This solution that the council would stand side by side with them actually involves them being evicted and starting a new life somewhere else before it becomes convenient enough to provide a new home.

“That is a real indictment on how this council looks at the theme of ‘strong economy, compassionate city’ – the compassion element in this paper is a little amiss.”

A planning application was submitted to Leeds City Council in 2019 by Pemberstone to demolish and rebuild the 70 post-war prefabricated homes.

The plans were originally rejected by a Leeds City Council planning committee in October 2019, but were overturned on appeal by a Government planning inspector.

While 11 former miners on old-style tenancy agreements must legally be rehoused at Pemberstone’s proposed new development, their neighbours will be forced to leave as they all have shorthold tenancies.

Responding to Coun Golton, Leeds City Council leader James Lewis (Lab) said: “I know from having met the residents that this isn’t the response they wanted and they will be disappointed - nobody in this administration will shy away from that.

“Clearly we have a deliverable plan with the investment available for new affordable houses.”

Speaking earlier during the meeting, the council’s executive member for transport and planning Coun Helen Hayden (Lab) said: “I hope that the report reflects the awful uncertainty and fears residents are experiencing and have done for several years.

“I am confident we will see an increased number of affordable housing above any number stated in planning, and high quality affordable housing will be in this site and we will do everything we can to keep this community together in the long term.”

The document claimed families would be “fully supported” in getting alternative accommodation and that, if needed, an officer would attend tenants’ homes to assess risk of homelessness. This could lead to priority for rehousing.

Conservative group leader Coun Andrew Carter agreed with the Labour group that there was little more the council could do for the tenants.

He said: “My only issue with this is to do the best for the people who haven’t got assured tenancies and will be evicted. The council, in spelling out why it can’t intervene with those properties, is the only way forward, but we will have to look on being much more flexible on the housing opportunities for those who will be displaced.

“I don’t think the council could have done any more than what is in this report.”

The report was approved by the panel.

Richard Beecham , Local Democracy Reporting Service

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