Controversial plans to change the face of an out-of-town business park in east Leeds were finally approved by councillors this afternoon.
Postponed last week, the approval means that the developers of Thorpe Park will be allowed to extend the site’s offer from mainly office space to include restaurants, hotels, a gym and shops, including a large supermarket.
It also, crucially, means that Leeds City Council can now press on with its plans for a new dual-carriageway road across north-east Leeds along with up to 6,000 new homes.
What’s the connection between today’s approval and the dual-carriageway and house-building? The background is here.
Objectors’ proposals rejected
Today’s decision came despite vigorous objections from powerful players connected with city centre schemes in Leeds – in particular Hammerson, developers of the forthcoming Victoria Gate retail and leisure development in Leeds city centre, and John Lewis, the Victoria Gate anchor store.
They’ve been saying that the £400m Thorpe Park scheme goes against local and national planning policies (which favour retail development in city and town centres, not out of town sites) and would have a negative impact on their Victoria Gate scheme in particular.
After saying last week that approval “could arguably be unlawful” and might call into question the delivery of Victoria Gate, the objectors wrote again to the council this week, maintaining their long-standing concerns and proposing two new conditions:
* that no new non-office space at Thorpe Park be occupied till Victoria Gate had been built and had been trading for a year
* that no new non-office space be occupied until the developers completed 37,000 sq.m. of new office space and their part of the planned new road
Council officers recommended to councillors on the panel that the proposed conditions be turned down. And they were. Without debate.
And that’s where they left it: the scheme that couldn’t be refused … in the end wasn’t.
Hammerson plans approved too
It remains to be seen whether Hammerson and John Lewis take their objections further.
Now they’ve been approved by the council, the Thorpe Park plans have to go to the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government because they’re a departure from the Leeds development plan.
Whether that gives Hammerson and John Lewis the chance to submit a further challenge I don’t know.
They may not want to. All that objecting may have been a game of bluff. Who knows.
In the meantime, the next item the councillors had to look at today was … guess what? … the £130m Victoria Gate scheme.
They duly approved the plans submitted for the John Lewis store, a car park on the site of the Millgarth police station, and the two arcades that are to house some 30 high-end shops and a casino.
Hammerson say today’s approval of their scheme is a major next step towards getting construction at Victoria Gate underway in spring.
“We are fully committed to creating a retail development that will not only reaffirm Leeds’ status as a top retail destination for luxury and aspirational brands in the UK, but will also add value to Leeds’ local economy and community,” said project director Joe Swindells.