Show Leeds the money – and let’s really kickstart the city’s Northern Powerhouse aspirations.
That’s the challenge to the Government today after claims that large chunks of possible development land which form part of the flagship East Leeds Extension masterplan are locked in limbo because of a lack of infrastructure cash.
One leading voice for the building industry said sky-high taxes, and a major lack of “incentivisation” by council decision-makers in promoting sites, are also putting developers off.
And a senior councillor laid down the gauntlet to chancellor George Osborne to come up with the cash to pay for a critical new orbital road.
Peter Gruen, councillor for Cross Gates and chairman of the East Leeds Regeneration Board, said: “Mr Osborne keeps talking about the Northern Powerhouse.
“Well, show us the colour of your money, mate, not just the fine words.
“You’re giving massive amounts of money to southern authorities for both road and rail, and here you are telling us you want houses building.
“We are telling you there are 5,000 houses that can be unlocked.”
The East Leeds Extension masterplan includes a huge expansion of Thorpe Park business park and up to 7,000 new homes, 10 per cent of the city’s long term total target for the next decade.
‘RADICAL MOVES NEEDED FOR CITY TO DELIVER ON ITS EASTERN PROMISE’
The future of a masterplan which will breathe life into the east of Leeds could be thrown into doubt if decision makers don’t stop dragging their heels on promoting sites to developers, experts have suggested today.
The sprawling vision for the East Leeds Extension, which includes a huge expansion to Thorpe Park and up to 7,000 new homes, is considered vitally important to the city’s economic prosperity and critical to its Northern Powerhouse ambitions.
The YEP reported last week that the plan had received a boost after a £162m investment deal was signed with pensions and insurance giant Legal and General. The expansion of Thorpe Park is expected to create 3,000 construction jobs and a further 10,000 once businesses move in.
The project also promises to unlock land for thousands of homes through the construction of the first section of the planned East Leeds Orbital Road (ELOR).
However the YEP has been told that a lack of positive engagement with many of the smaller landowners along the key route of the proposed ELOR – and with developers who are already hit by sky-high roof taxes – is contributing to large blocks of land sitting in development limbo.
Chris Carr, Northern England spokesman for the Federation of Master Builders, whose family firm has been building homes for a century, said many factors were potentially “blocking delivery of the Northern Powerhouse”.
He said the “piecemeal effect” of hundreds of individual landowners waiting on sometimes unrealistic expectations for the price they can get was a major problem, as was a failure by key stakeholders to sit down together.
He said “radical” ways of thinking were needed to “incentivise” both landowners and developers. And he suggested that compulsory purchase of some land might be the only option left to the council if it really wants to kick-start development.
He added that with the recent introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy – an additional tax on developers – the question many firms were asking themselves was ‘why are we being penalised?’ “You have got to sit down together, small and national house builders, the council, and statutory bodies like the Environment Agency,” he said. “There needs to be more understanding and trust, and developers need to be part of that.”
The East Leeds Extension grew out of the original Thorpe Park business park, which was first developed in the 1990s. Many years later plans were formulated to expand the park with retail, leisure and housing.
The project is made up of several key components, with Thorpe Park and the former Vickers munitions factory site sitting on one end, and the council-owned Red Hall site at the other.
Several smaller housing developments, including part of the former Vickers site and the former Optare site, have already started.
Plans for 2,000 homes in the ‘Northern Quadrant’ have also recently been formalised. However the middle Southern Quadrant sections have proved problematic, because they are made up of hundreds of pieces of privately-owned land.
ORBITAL ROAD IS VITAL - BUT WE NEED COLLECTIVE FAITH IN OUR CITY
Peter Gruen, a councillor for Cross Gates and Whinmoor and chairman of the East Leeds Regeneration Board, says he is “absolutely staggered” at the lack of progress on the middle Southern ’quadrants’ of the East Leeds Extension.
And he has words of warning for both decision-making council colleagues and potential developers.
“The Government blames the planning system, but the planning system can’t consider a planning application which isn’t there,” he said. “People might be talking in the background about buying the land, but nobody is coming forward.
“The council has got to broker these agreements.
“It is key for us. The city needs to show that leadership of bringing the people together - but developers have to be willing, they need to have some faith in the city.”
He added that pursuing a “copper-bottomed deal” on the delivery of the ELOR was key to progress.
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said she is proud of the “phenomenal” new partnership which saw Legal and General pumping £162m into the Thorpe Park expansion. But she agrees that “the key bit for the whole of East Leeds is the East Leeds Orbital Road”.
The building of the road is dependent on funding, some of which will come from a “roof tax” on developers, she said.
Coun Blake added: “There has been a real recognition that the ring road doesn’t serve that particular part of Leeds as well as it could.
“So this is an opportunity to take the traffic out of the residential areas and bring much needed investment.
“The really positive thing for us is working in partnership with the public sector and the private sector and making sure, through our involvement, that local people benefit from the jobs that are being created.”