Would a metro mayor and ‘vote by street’ planning laws help solve Leeds housing crisis?

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Leeds planning chiefs have responded with scepticism to calls from a major think-thank for residents to be allowed to vote on planning applications in their own roads.

The idea is of one of three suggested by the Adam Smith Institute in its new report, Yes In My Back Yard, which calls for an overhaul of development laws as a way to help solve the housing crisis.

The report said: “How can we use the fact that new low or mid-rise development mainly affects neighbours on the same street?

“The easiest way is to let individual streets decide to give themselves additional rights to extend or replace existing buildings.”

The study also proposed allowing development on “ugly or low amenity” green belt sites and devolving planning laws to metro mayors.

It said each of the ideas would individually make a “huge difference” and, if combined, could have a “transformative effect on the housing situation in Britain”.

However councillor Neil Walshaw, who chairs Leeds City Council’s North and East plans panel, said the idea would actually prove more divisive than democratic.

“It’s an attack on the liberty of householders,” he said.

“It will disempower individual householders to the benefit of their individual neighbours.

“It will bring out the worst in people.”

He said the real solution to empowering communities was by empowering the local councillors they have elected to represent them - and by allowing local authorities to build more council homes.

He added that the current planning system is full of “iniquities” and skewed in favour of developers.

Councillor Peter Gruen, who chairs the Developments Plans Panel, added the planning appeals system was one of the biggest problems with existing regulation, as it means planning inspectors can “breeze in” with no knowledge or affinity with communities, and make decisions which will affect them for the next 20 or 30 years.

Developers can “keep coming back and coming back” till they get what they want, or a slightly amended version of it, he added, while there is “no comeback for the community”.

However he agreed with the idea of an elected mayor having the final say, as this would speed up the process and be less costly overall by cutting down on expensive appeals”.

He added that the “vote by street” idea would never work, as “no development would ever get approved”.

“I think the planning system can be made more democratic than it is at the moment, but it can’t possibly be ‘everybody put their hands up’,” Coun Gruen said.

The Yes In My Back Yard report said: “We have a housing crisis because no one has come up with a solution that is likely to get adopted by a politician with power.

“That is the only way to get real action.”