A controversial new development that could open up east Leeds to years of road construction and house building was approved this afternoon by Leeds city councillors.
Approval? Let’s call it 95% approval.
But first things first.
The plans approved in principle today mean that the Thorpe Park business park on the outskirts of the city has got permission to extend its offer from mainly office space to include restaurants, hotels, a gym and shops, including a large supermarket.
What they also mean (you can read the background here) is that a proposed new dual carriageway for east Leeds – the East Leeds Orbital Road – finally looks like a realistic proposition. And along with (and around) the road will come 6,000 new homes – homes that the council says need building to keep up with the city’s population growth.
So. Pretty much as expected. A development that looked like it couldn’t be refused got the go-ahead.
Because there are still two flies buzzing about in the ointment – Hammerson, the developers of the forthcoming Victoria Gate retail and leisure development in Leeds city centre, and John Lewis, the Victoria Gate’s anchor store.
In an 11th hour letter to the council they repeated their objections to the Thorpe Park scheme: the plans for retail on the park went against council and national planning policy and not enough consideration had been given to the likely negative impact on the city centre, they said.
Or, as their representative told the meeting:
“Hammerson is extremely concerned by the applications before you today and are extremely surprised and disappointed that they are being recommended for approval … the officers’ report is deficient and misleading … to make a decision today, unless it’s to refuse the applications, would not be robust and could arguably be unlawful … John Lewis have asked me today to reiterate their deep concerns … to approve permission would set a very dangerous precedent within the city and call into question the delivery of the Victoria Gate scheme.”
Arguably unlawful? Call into question the Victoria Gate scheme?
“Would that (approval) stop John Lewis going ahead in Leeds?” one of the councillors asked the Hammerson/John Lewis representative.
“John Lewis have raised deep concerns about the impact it would have on investment in the city centre, including the Hammerson scheme,” she replied. “I’m not in a position to say whether it would prevent that phase going ahead, but they have asked me to reiterate … that they have deep concerns.”
Was it bluster? Did anyone know?
Would they take the risk and ignore it?
A last-minute compromise was suggested to councillors by the council’s chief planning officer (isn’t planning all about compromise between vested interests?): why don’t we accept the Thorpe Park scheme in principle now, and then hold talks with John Lewis, Hammerson and the Thorpe Park applicants to see if we can come up with some new conditions about the retail side of the scheme that would give further protection to the planned investment in Victoria Gate in the city centre?
All those in favour? Carried.
And that’s where they left it. They’ll hold those talks next week and then councillors will vote on whatever emerges at a meeting next Thursday – when they’ll also be discussing … guess what? … the Hammerson/John Lewis Victoria Gate scheme.