Leeds’ chief health officer has stepped into the row over whether developers should be allowed to build homes and a shop on a former school’s sports facilities in Leeds.
Director of public health Dr Ian Cameron is recommending that senior councillors on Leeds City Council’s executive board sign up to the principle of retaining the facilities on Victoria Rd in Hyde Park for community use when they meet next Wednesday (12th December).
Campaigners, who include local councillors and MPs, have been fighting to block developers’ plans to build on the former Leeds Girls High School site, but up to last month council planning officers were saying the development couldn’t be opposed in principle.
Dr Cameron’s intervention may change all that.
New health Act
In a report to be discussed at next week’s meeting, the public health director details the health problems and “severe” lack of recreational space in the area, and raises the possibility that new legislation could allow councillors to object to the development on health grounds.
“The new Health and Social Care Act 2012 (HSCA) Section 12 states that each local authority must take such steps as it considers appropriate for improving the health of the people in its area,” the report says. “Planning policies and planning decisions are not exempted from this new mandatory requirement.”
“The provision of public recreational playing green-space is an important factor in the
health and wellbeing of local communities, particularly in the urban core of the city.
This is a material planning consideration and will form part of making a balanced
planning judgement,” the report adds.
So, if developers Chartford Homes and Holbeck Land submit a revised planning application for the site in the new year, it looks like the new Act could be used in a further attempt to block the development.
What’s not clear yet is how objections citing the new Act would stand up at a planning tribunal, should the application go that far.
Cash to buy the site?
It’s not clear either where the cash-strapped council, which announced today it was cutting £51.3m from its budget and shedding 400 jobs next year, would get the money to buy the site so it can be retained for community use. If it comes to that.
The report said that people living in the “disadvantaged” area around the site die younger than elsewhere in Leeds and suffer from higher than average levels of childhood obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease, conditions which can be prevented or controlled by increased physical activity. And the area suffers from a severe lack of open space for the public to use for recreation.
The report takes pains to point out that any future planning application for the site will be considered by the local planning panel on its merits.
“Any support that Executive Board may give to the future use of Victoria Road for recreational purposes is separate to and does not restrict the role of the Local Planning Authority,” it says.
“Whilst recognising the separate role of the local planning authority the Executive Board is recommended to support the principle of retaining the Victoria Road playing fields for community use due to the important role that green-space provision can make to health and wellbeing in a community which is acknowledged as having a deficiency in sports facilities and pitches,” it concludes.