Leeds planners ‘must do more to encourage house building’

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Allowing developers more flexibility is vital to boosting the building of new homes in Leeds city centre.

That was the overall view of Leeds City Council’s decision-making cabinet last night as it rubber-stamped new rules allowing builders to contribute community improvement cash rather than including a set number of ‘affordable” homes in key schemes.

The authority is introducing the amendments as part of wider regeneration ambitions to grow the private rented homes sector and encourage building on brownfield sites.

A report approved by the council’s executive board said the changes “aim to provide some certainty to investors when making decisions about which markets to invest in”.

It adds: “This approach will further underline the council priority of providing enough homes of a high standard in all sectors”.

Councillor Richard Lewis, executive board member for regeneration and planning, told colleagues the changes were a “pragmatic” approach to reversing the sluggish pace of housing growth in the city since the recession.

“Building has developed in the city centre over the past 15 years, but post recession it came crashing off a cliff and hasn’t recovered,” he said.

“There is a clear need...to get back to building at scale in the city centre, not least for the benefits it brings in terms of our housing targets.”

He stressed that when you are dealing with “footloose” investors, it was important to take steps to encourage them to stay and develop in our city.

“I think we are being pragmatic in offering a way forward for them to develop...[and] ensure that we don’t miss out on investment coming into the city,” he said.

Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the main opposition Conservative group on Leeds City Council, agreed that a change in approach was necessary.

But he stressed that “other cities have been doing this [already] and we have been losing out”.

“We have had one hand tied behind our back,” he said of current rules, adding that the change was “not just pragmatic, it’s common sense”.