Row over council’s housing plan

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Decision makers at Leeds City Council were told they had got the city’s planning policy “totally and utterly wrong”.

It came at a full council meeting where members were due to vote on a review of the authority’s core strategy, which decides how many houses should be built in the city over the next decade.

After being given targets from central government in 2014, the authority had originally predicted it needed to build 70,000 new homes by 2028, but this was recently revised down to 52,000 homes by 2033. But Leeds City Council’s Conservatives wanted the target reduced even further, to around 42,000.

The council executive’s planning chief Coun Richard Lewis (Lab) told the meeting that other parties were playing politics with planning issues.

He added: “The Tories keep coming back to the issue of planning. Why?

“It is because there is nothing else you can talk about. You are causing confusion and mayhem because people don’t have a good grasp of the issues.”

Conservative councillor Barry Anderson angrily responded: “Yes, we need housing. And we think that the 42,000 target is good for now.

“But it is too late now. It would take a powerful person to admit they were wrong. We have got it totally and utterly wrong.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Campbell told the council’s ruling executive board that it had taken too long to put the core strategy together, adding: “The mess is of your own making. We are in a situation where housing pressure is considerable. You have made us a hostage to developers. No site is safe.”

The authority is currently going through a public inquiry on its core strategy’s site allocations plan, which will decide broadly where the houses will be built in the next decade.

Referring to the inquiry, Conservative councillor Alan Lamb added: “We should be setting the numbers, and then allocating the sites. And we should get this down to a sensible target as soon as possible.”

Labour Councillor and head of the development plans panel Peter Gruen hit back, claiming many developers don’t bother building once they have permission.

He said: “There are 18,000 units that have planning permission in this city and have not been started. Why have (the Conservatives) not asked their government to be more lenient about the planning system?”

Conservatives leader Coun Andrew Carter said: “Members on your side have been telling people in this city that sites in their ward have been saved from development. They have not.”

Coun Lewis responded: “We represent a whole city, not just the outer areas.”

The plans were eventually passed, with the entire Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Morley Borough Independent groups abstaining from the vote.

The rowing began before the housing debate, when some councillors objected to a motion on halting the meeting early - so members could watch the England match.

A motion was put forward on whether to halt yesterday afternoon’s full council meeting at 6pm, rather than the usual 7.30pm finish time. But not everyone was happy with the idea.

Coun Stewart Golton, leader of the Liberal Democrats said to jeers from fellow councillors: “It’s all well and good being patriotic, but we all have responsibilities as elected representatives.”

Coun Dan Cohen (Lab), responded: “It might surprise members that some of these proposals came from the Liberal Democrats. We have a duty to support our national team.”

The chamber then erupted into applause, before members voted to shorten the meeting.