This has been a momentous year in Leeds North West.
It saw the publication of the Leeds 15-year Site Allocations plan.
That plan was the first stage of the Council’s response to the LibDem/Tory Government’s new planning framework.
The Coalition demanded that a local plan be drawn up in double quick time. It also asked landowners to offer sites they owned for housing – all of which have had to be included in the exercise, however unsuitable. And developers have been basking in the climate created by the NPPF, on which they’ve been busy capitalizing – not least here in Leeds NW.
The good news in all this, however, was the Council’s consultation exercise, which took place from 3 June to 29 July.
It proved to be a process which really engaged local residents.
This week Leeds City Council has released first details of the results of that process.
A massive 7,738 comments were provided by 6,434 individuals. 5,970 responses were about housing with 441 regarding green spaces and 166 around employment. Many of these concerned sites here in Leeds NW.
The consultation was the first important step toward identifying suitable sites for housing, employment and retail use.
And it has clearly been a huge success – a real exercise in local democracy and involvement.
As Councillor Peter Gruen, Leeds City Council executive board member with responsibility for neighbourhoods, planning and support services, put it:
“The numbers received show the process has real credibility and people were energised to take part. We recognise that housing is far and away the most important topic to people.
“We want to work with communities so together we find the best possible sites for new development. We will work with them during this consultation period and beyond to agree local solutions for sustainable development that respects local views.’
Councillor Gruen stressed that this was only the first step – and that nothing is yet set in stone. This was only
‘the first stage of the Site Allocations Plan* and the council consulted on a range of options rather than proposals.’
So this was just the beginning of what must be an ongoing conversation.
And that’s a conversation in which the local Labour Party is already deeply involved.
Branches of the Labour Party in Leeds North West made submissions to the consultation – as did many individual members.
Their submissions reiterated the Party’s commitments – to brownfield first, the protection of Green Belt, affordable housing and adequate infrastructure.
‘Development is quite simply the most important issue facing Wharfedale – the decisions that are taken today will significantly affect the lives and prospects of future generations. That is why it’s absolutely vital we strike the right balance between protecting the distinctive landscape of Wharfedale whilst providing enough affordable housing for the families that actually live here. There are no easy solutions but the right place to start is surely through dialogue and joined up thinking. As a community we need to understand every different perspective and explore every possible implication of housing – can the roads cope, are there enough school places, can we provide local jobs, are we using brownfield sites sufficiently, and are there areas of natural beauty where development should not take place under any circumstances?
Leeds City Council has now started this process through their successful Site Allocations consultation. But it’s important that we continue this dialogue as a community, talking about not just the level of development that we think appropriate but also the type of development that we would like to see. The last thing we want are ‘rabbit hutch’ housing estates springing up without any regard for community, quality of life and the surrounding environment. We need urgently to make the debate bigger than a ‘Yes or No’ to housing – let’s make it about the right homes in the right places.”
Carl’s comments are echoed by Mark Henley, Labour’s candidate in Adel and Wharfedale
‘I am committed to campaigning on issues that matter to local people – such as opposing green field developments, and developing brownfield sites first – with supporting infrastructure’.
And these are not questions which apply only north of the Ring Road. As Julie Heselwood in Weetwood and Jonathan Pryor in Headingley reminded us – protection of the last green spaces in places like Hyde Park and the former Tetley Sports Ground is hugely important to the residents of these areas, where such open spaces are at a premium.
The responses which the Council has received will help determine how sites progress to the next stage – a publication plan. This will be consulted on in the New Year and all residents who responded will be kept informed as the plan progress.
So that’s the next stage of the dialogue.
And you can rest assured that the local Labour branches and candidates will be making sure they remain fully involved – arguing the case for affordable housing, alongside brownfield development, protection of greenspaces – as Carl puts it
‘the right homes in the right places’.
We’ve stood up for Leeds NW in 2013 – and we’ll continue to do so in 2014.
In the meantime – WE WISH A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL RESIDENTS IN LEEDS NORTH WEST – AND A PEACEFUL AND PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR.
*The site allocations report is publicly available at http://www.leeds.gov.uk/siteallocations along with detailed maps of areas being considered.