There’s good news and bad for campaigners wanting to save the sports facilities of a former Leeds school from development.
The good news is that controversial plans to build homes and a convenience store on the site of the former Leeds Girls High School facilities look set to be turned down by councillors next week.
The bad news is that council planners feel that the development can’t be opposed in principle – just in the detail.
Developers Chartford Homes and Holbeck Land are looking to build 25 terraced houses, eight flats and a retail store on the site of the sports hall, playing field and swimming pool of the former school on Victoria Rd in Hyde Park.
The plans have been opposed by local councillors, MPs and campaign groups who have been calling for the facilities to be made available to local schools and the local community as part of the “Olympic legacy”.
After a two-month delay in delivering their opinion, Leeds City Council planning officers are now recommending that councillors on the plans panel for the south and west of the city refuse the planning application.
But it’s the detail of the proposals they are objecting to rather than the principle of using the land for homes and retail.
Campaigners have been arguing that the fact that the facilities were used formerly by members of the local community should be grounds for the site’s retention for recreational use.
Council officers believe that such a case would not stand up if the developer went to appeal.
“Could not be defended on appeal”
“Officers recognise that this application is very sensitive and very important to the local community and very careful consideration has been given as to whether grounds for refusal could be substantiated in relation to the loss of the protected playing pitches and buildings,” a report prepared for next Thursday’s meeting (8th November) says.
“The principle of an out of centre retail development has similarly been carefully appraised. Officers are of the clear view however that refusal is not justified on these grounds and could not be defended on appeal,” it adds.
What the planners are objecting to is a proposed access road to the site which, they say, would mean the loss of protected trees and a historic boundary wall. This would be “significantly detrimental to the character and appearance” of the local conservation area and would “adversely affect” the setting of a neighbouring listed building.
They say too that the proposed areas of public open space on the site are “not considered to be well sited” and that the siting, design and scale of the retail and apartment building would be “detrimental to the amenity” of people living in a neighbouring row of terraces.
Amongst those also urging a rejection of the plans are the headteachers of six schools, three of which have no playing field space, and the member of the council’s senior leadership team responsible for Health and Wellbeing, Lisa Mulherin.
“The site of this application is surrounded by terraced and back to back properties, most of which have little if any amenity garden space,” she says in a submission to the panel.
“There are high levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the local community and there are grounds for the retention of the playing pitches on health grounds”.
Cllr Mulherin notes that as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, public health is now a “material consideration” in the planning process.
“Rejecting this application and protecting the playing fields presents an opportunity to begin to narrow the gap in health outcomes in this part of the city, through promoting physical activity and the mental wellbeing that supports, on the doorstep of this densely populated community,” she says.
Despite local protests, plans to build 94 new homes on the school’s main site on the other side of Victoria Rd were approved by the council in August.