Alec raises Council incompetence over housing numbers

On Wednesday 4th July 2018, Alec took part in a Westminster Hall debate on the role of local councils in setting housing targets.

In the debate, and in advance of an upcoming Public Examination into the Council’s Local Plan, Alec raised Leeds City Council’s incompetence and the fact that there are currently over 17,000 dwellings with planning permission that remain unbuilt.

Alec said:

“The simple truth is that our constituents, the public, have no faith whatever left in the planning system. That is hardly a surprise when one is dealing with, to be frank, the rank incompetence of a council such as Leeds City Council. It has created a totally over-inflated housing target figure, which even the academics at Leeds University have claimed simply could not be built in the time frame laid out, yet in the next couple of weeks we are to go into a public inquiry in which we assess whether Leeds City Council’s site allocations plan is sound. How can something be sound if it is based on fantasy figures?

Leeds City Council has lost almost every single Planning Appeal; every time, the Inspector comes along and says, “You don’t have a five-year land supply.” But the figure is being inflated to say that we need tens of thousands more houses than we actually need. It is, therefore, very difficult to come up with the land supply for houses that are never going to be built.

What are the consequences of that? Sites are coming forward to be built on that actually should never been involved. They are the prime sites, where a developer will say, “I’m going to build on that site and get the housing numbers up.” They quite legitimately do not have to build on the brownfield sites, because the council has said, “This is a site you can build on.” The developer then starts to build on that green-belt and greenfield site, and they get far more revenue from that. There is no incentive for them to move elsewhere.

In the past five years, Leeds City Council has granted 25,148 planning permissions. Of those, 4,429 expired—they were not built within the specified timeframe—and only 3,680 were built. Therefore 17,039 remain unbuilt, yet Leeds says that we need to find planning and space for another 70,000 houses.

I realise that the Minister cannot respond to this, but his constituency neighbours mine, and the councils in his constituency, especially Harrogate Borough Council, are planning to build tens of thousands of houses on the border of my constituency. At the moment, Leeds City Council is not taking any notice of that, and it is saying that we need to expand. Councillor Alan Lamb from Wetherby, Councillor Ryan Stephenson from Harewood, and Councillor Matthew Robinson have been at the forefront of fighting back against Leeds City Council, but it is a Labour majority council by quite some margin. Even the independents—I pay tribute to Councillor Mark Dobson, who is an independent in Garforth in my constituency—have been fighting against the Labour council on those numbers, but they just get ridden roughshod over.

On 1 August, I will be sat in a site allocations plan inquiry arguing why a grade II listed parks and gardens site should not be built on. I will be doing that because Leeds City Council refuses to reassess the numbers it came up with on the basis of totally out-of-date migration figures from the early and mid-2000s, when figures were much higher than they are now. Even now, demand is declining, although the council says that it is going up. The inspector has said, “It is not my job to assess the numbers. That was done in 2012. We are here to judge the soundness of the SAP.” How can we possibly judge the soundness of the plan when we are dealing with fantasy numbers?

We have lost every PAS site appeal in my constituency. The only one left is Scholes. The plan to try to save that PAS site and build somewhere else on the Parlington estate would increase the traffic flow through that village by 300%—that is Leeds City Council’s highways department’s own figure. Even the solutions that Leeds City Council comes out with to try to save a village actually destroy that village by shifting the problem elsewhere.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend James Cartlidge, and I congratulate him on securing this debate. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert. It has to be about how many houses we build, not how many permissions we have. Quite simply, in my constituency alone, almost 75% of the planning permissions have gone unbuilt. How on earth can someone put forward a plan that says, “Actually, Elmet and Rothwell needs another 12,000 houses”, when 75% of the permissions granted have not yet been built? The whole thing needs to be reassessed.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to feed back to his Department that, unless the numbers are accurate, these processes are completely unsound. All we are doing is giving a licence to build on the green belt and greenfield land, rather than tackling brownfield land, which consequently means there is no affordable housing”.