Wetherby 800 homes plan approved in principle despite road access problems
A development described as “one of the biggest changes to Wetherby in 50 years” is one step closer after planning chiefs gave the green light to outline plans for the site.
Leeds City Council’s city plans panel approved in principle an application from Taylor Wimpey to build 800 homes, a food shop, a primary school and public spaces off Racecourse Approach in Wetherby.
This was despite protests from campaigners, who claimed the site needed an access road to nearby York Road in order to meet the council’s own planning rules.
Since originally being approved a year ago, complications around a York Road access led to the panel meeting twice more to discuss the plans, with a decision deferred back in July.
The panel had suggested the applicant should look into buying another piece of land to help build the access through this part of the site. But it was claimed the owner of that land – a third party – had not accepted a bid from developers Taylor Wimpey.
Planning officers told the meeting that, as the site already had three access points on nearby Racecourse Approach, it did not necessarily need the extra access road, which could instead be incorporated into future developments.
But the Better Wetherby Partnership, a group of local campaigners, told planning officers that other developers would “jump at the chance” to take on the site and comply with the council’s original site allocations plan, which states there should be an access to York Road.
Alan Lamb, speaking on behalf of Wetherby Town Council and Better Wetherby Partnership said: “We accept the site is allocated for housing, we also understand the consequences of the site not being developed.
“But we equally believe the scheme as it stands does not meet the requirements of the SAP, it does not accord with national planning policy framework.
“The reasonable offer for the land is not the only piece of third party land that could create a link to York Road, and we have heard nothing about offers and negotiations with any other sites that could offer an access point.
“This is the biggest change to Wetherby in 50 years. It is crucial that we get it right.”
Local campaigner Peter Catton told the meeting that to accept the proposal would be to “invite anarchy into the planning of housing in Leeds.”
Speaking on behalf of Taylor Wimpey, Mark Johnson told the meeting: “Because we spent so long talking about the outline (planning permission), we are now pressing ahead with the details on the reserved matters applications irrespective of today’s decision, and we are going to be putting the design briefs and masterplans out through a series of meetings over the coming weeks.”
He added that one of the reasons they needed to move quickly was that a proposed development on a neighbouring site needed access through the Taylor Wimpey development.
Mr Johnson added: “We have 200 jobs waiting in the wings to start. This is a real economic driver – there are jobs at stake.
“There is no evidence to demonstrate the absence of a vehicular access from York Road for this application would be detrimental in any way.”
He also claimed more detailed plans later on will show the house types, which would be sustainable.
Council officer Martin Elliot suggested that, as the development did not cover the entire site allocated for housing, there was not necessarily a requirement for Taylor Wimpey to build the access to York Road.
But some members of the panel felt the site allocations plan required (SAP) the developers to build the access to York Road.
Commenting on the application, Coun David Blackburn (Green) said: “I am troubled with this. It seems that it doesn’t meet with what was laid down in the SAP.
“Things have been moved to suit it and I am really troubled about that.”
Coun Colin Campbell (Lib Dem) said: “This is a difficult one.
“I have walked into the site and back into Wetherby – it is not an easy two minute walk.
“We agree it is a housing site, and we are clutching at the York Road access point. I have some issues with if we turn this down simply because there is not an access to York Road. Given the minister’s statement if it went to appeal we would have difficulty defending that.”
Coun Peter Carlill (Lab): “Were we looking at the entire allocation, we would request the access from York Road, but we are not looking at that so we have to think about which requirements from that apply to this site.”
“I struggle with this,” Coun Dan Cohen (Con) added. “We are at risk here of misdirecting ourselves.
“The only reason we are talking about this is because it is a SAP site. At some point in the future this will become housing – we are where we are.
“The SAP sets out unequivocal criteria for sites. It may be that at some point in the future that they can be met, but Taylor Wimpey are not at the moment able to meet the SAP criteria.
“The SAP requirements are the key to the door, and it surprises me that (officers) have caved so quickly and it worries me how they are going to stick up for other parts of the city when it comes to SAP requirements.”
Coun Al Garthwaite (Lab) said: “I don’t greet this with delight, but I think it’s important to get on with it. The answers are as good as we are going to get at the moment.
“I hope in view of recent proposals from government we will be able to comment on that.
“I don’t think it’s perfect, but I’ll go with it.”
Coun Caroline Gruen (Lab) said: “What troubles me is the length of time the other sites will take to be built out. It could be a long time before we get an access to York Road.
“People living in these houses are going to use cars and they’re going to use them. The hopper bus is a red herring – we need to look at getting more people onto public transport, but I’m not sure this will do that.
“But I am quite realistic about its chances at appeal and I recognise we need to build houses.”
Coun Elizabeth Nash (Lab) said: “The government have made it quite clear they are going to accept planning applications.
“I rather suspect that some members are using the vehicular access issue to stop the site altogether and I don’t wish to bring this council into disrepute – I support the application.”
Coun Paul Wadsworth (Con): “There is a danger that if we approve this today, it becomes a big estate of houses, all accessing the motorway and not be a benefit to Wetherby.
“I am really struggling to support this.”
Plans to defer and delegate the application then went to a vote, where it was passed by six votes to four.