As printed in the Wetherby News on Thursday 3rd November 2016
After numerous false starts and modifications, Leeds City Council has at last laid the foundations of its Site Allocation Plan for public consultation.
The plan – a mechanism by which the Council’s ruling administration aims to deliver a self-imposed target of 66,000 new homes across the city by 2028, includes the allocation of 5,000 homes on land across Wetherby, Scarcroft, Boston Spa, Bardsey, Bramham, Scholes, Thorp Arch, and at the Parlington Estate between Aberford and Barwick-in-Elmet.
Over the past five years, elected representatives in our area have argued vehemently against the housing target of 66,000 homes. The argument consistently made was not one opposing the development of new houses in principle – we recognise that there is a growing need for more affordable homes – but that the Council’s strategy should promote the development of brownfield land first.
The only sure-fire way to do this is to implement a lower housing target and prioritise the building of these new homes on brownfield sites across Leeds.
These were the arguments put forward by local MP Alec Shelbrooke, alongside city councillors, parish councillors and neighbourhood planning groups at a public inquiry back in 2013.
Revising down the target would have delivered common-sense approach to allocating land for new homes, but it was not, sadly, the strategy adopted by Leeds City Council. Instead, the ruling administration chose a housing target for which there is not a sufficient amount of brownfield land available. In other words, it has directly forced itself into a position of allocating greenfield and greenbelt land to meet its quota.
It frankly beggars belief that those in positions of influence within the ruling party, individuals who use their election leaflets to campaign against the development of greenfield or greenbelt sites, are now part of an administration forcing through a plan that promotes the very opposite.
We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s part of an evolutionary cycle in small ponds that those seeking big fish status don’t last very long out of water. And, of course, in ponds there’s no tide to swim against even if they wanted to so it’s less hassle to mill around treading water.
This is the problem with politics in local government today: the pool from which talent is sought for positions of leadership is so small that the job goes to somebody willing rather than able. The result is a nodding pumpjack, eager to take the word of council officers as gospel instead of grasping responsibility and setting a strategic vision.
In this latest public consultation the collective apathy from residents towards the leadership of Leeds City Council has led to a strong feeling that the plan is a done deal, that the consultation is merely an administrative exercise.
But, in the midst of such apathy and unnecessary pressure on the city’s green fields there is a glimmer of hope for our communities.
It is now generally acknowledged that those who argued for a lower housing target have been vindicated, with updated statistical analysis suggesting there is no longer a need for the higher target. In private, many in the ruling administration on Leeds City Council acknowledge they were wrong to impose the higher target after all.
Fortunately, an opportunity to put political divisions aside, perform a U-turn and revise down the housing target will arise when the Council reviews its strategy in 2017. And there are many reasons why it should. Whilst Britain remains optimistic about its future it is indubitable that our exit from the European Union will have a knock-on effect to the factors used by Leeds City Council when calculating its housing target. Factors such as change to patterns of migration is just one reason that should cause the Council to review its strategy, and it should do so at the earliest possibility.
Follow Cllr Stephenson on Twitter: @Stephenson_Ryan