Years after it was first dreamed up, steps are being taken today to turn the idea of a brand new orbital road for east Leeds into reality.
At a meeting this lunchtime senior councillors are expected to give the go-ahead to a £150,000 feasibility study that will identify where the dual-carriageway road (dubbed the East Leeds Orbital Road) might go, how much it could cost and how it might be built.
You can get a rough idea of the possible route from the map on the right.
Housing. It’s planned that 5-7,000 new homes are going to get built in and around the area known as the East Leeds Extension (the brown bits on the map) over the coming years. That’s 5-7,000 more cars on local roads that are busy already. And they obviously won’t be able to cope.
Hence the new road, which, according to a report drafted for today’s Leeds City Council meeting is “critical to the delivery of Leeds housing growth” and is going to “provide the additional capacity on the highways network necessary to accommodate this scale of development”.
Sounds simple? It isn’t. Getting the road built has all the makings of a …
… planner’s nightmare
Not because of local residents’ disquiet over the scale of the housing development that’s prompting the road’s construction. Not because of the doubts being expressed over whether such roads actually relieve congestion. And not because the road’s already being seen by some as an expression of an overly car-centred approach to transport in the UK’s most congested conurbation.
All that stuff will get raised officially when the public gets to have its say on the road.
For the moment the biggest nightmare for those doing the planning must be the prospect of getting the landowners and developers involved to sign up to an agreed route, an agreed schedule for the road’s construction, and an agreed divvying up of the costs.
While we should have a better idea of costs in 12 weeks – when the feasibility study is completed – the council report estimates that the 4.3 mile road will cost over £100m. (One council official has said it could be as much as £120m.) And that’s without taking into account any land the council may have to buy.
Where’s that money coming from?
There might be hand-outs from central government or European funding streams. And there might be some cash forthcoming from the recently set up (but already over-subscribed) West Yorkshire Transport Fund. There might.
The most likely scenario, however, is that the council will have to take out a loan for the bulk of the costs and get developers to pay it back over time via a sort of “roof tax”.
Inflated house prices?
Which makes the maths fairly simple: if the road costs £120m and 5,000 houses get built around it, that’s £24,000 per house that developers would have to pay; if 7,000 get built, then the contribution per house is down to £17,000.
So, to give an example, the consortium that’s planning to build 2,000 new homes between the A58 and the A64 would have to cough up between £34m and £48m in “roof tax” for the mile and a half stretch of dual-carriageway that’s going to run round the edge of its new estate.
On top of that they’re going to have to fork out cash so the estate gets the infrastructure it needs – schools, health facilities, bus services, shops, green space, etc etc. And then provide a proportion of “affordable” homes.
If the developer is going to make his required profit, all those costs (roof tax included) will have to be passed on upfront to prospective house-buyers. Will the market stand the resulting inflated prices?
No development till road finished?
The other big questions facing the planners are: do they phase the construction or build the road all in one go?; if it’s phased, which developments get to benefit from an early start?; if it’s all in one go, do they allow any development along the route before the whole road’s finished?
Local councillors sitting on the East Leeds Regeneration Board want no development to take place till the road is ready. And the earliest that could be is in over six years’ time, given that the council says it’ll take at least three years to plan and prepare and another three to build.
“Members of the Board have expressed clear views that there is a need for the ELOR to be provided in its entirety in advance of any development in the ELE and Thorpe Park,” says the council report going to today’s meeting.
Will developers be prepared to wait at least six years before the first brick gets laid on their first new house? Will the owners of Thorpe Park be prepared to wait six more years before achieving their goal of diversifying into leisure, cafes and a supermarket?
My guess is “no”.
Nothing clear enough to consult about
As far as the public is concerned, there’s been no consultation about the new road yet -because the council says there’s nothing clear enough to talk about.
“The Council has not undertaken any public consultation on specific proposals for the ELOR as for the reasons set out in this report, there is currently limited clarity on the options or opportunities for progress and therefore at this stage limited scope for dialogue with the community,” the report says.