The long-running row over developers’ plans to build homes on former sports facilities in the Hyde Park area of Leeds is set for a showdown on Thursday – a showdown between councillors and council planning officers.
Back in December there was delight among campaigners when councillors on one of Leeds City Council’s planning panels voted to refuse plans to build 24 houses and a shop on land off Victoria Rd which used to be part of the sports facilities of Leeds Girls High School.
Council planning officers were instructed to go away and flesh out arguments that would justify the refusal.
Cue massive relief for campaigners who have been fighting to retain the site for use by local schools and local people as part of what they call the “Hyde Park Olympic legacy”.
Except that …
The council’s planning officers have now come back and said they’ve taken advice from a QC and are sticking to their long-standing position – that they can’t find sufficient justification in planning terms for the councillors’ rejection.
So, they’re asking the councillors to have a look at the QC’s advice and rethink their decision.
What happens if the councillors stick to their guns isn’t immediately clear (to me at least). But they’ll be one step closer to going to a planning appeal – an appeal that the council’s planning officers say they could well lose.
And that could end up costing the cash-strapped council dear.
Community hearts vs planning heads
It was clear that when they rejected the application back in December, councillors were voting as much (or more) with their “community” hearts as their planning heads. They did come up with some suggested reasons for refusal that the planning officers could look into, but only after they’d voted.
The officers have now looked at those suggestions and found them wanting.
They’re not convinced, for example, that the campaigners’ claim that the local community made “regular and prolonged use” of the site in the past would stand up as a justification for refusal on appeal.
And they’ve had a further look, at the councillors’ behest, at whether the plans comply with national and local planning and development policies and the provisions of last year’s Health and Social Care Act. And they still believe that they do.
Royal Park offer
In a curious linked development, the report suggests that councillors ask the council’s director of City Development to bring forward proposals for a new area of public open space on a site 500m away, where the much-loved, former Royal Park School is currently being demolished after another long-running campaign failed to save it.
Up till now the plan has been for the Royal Park site to be temporarily grassed over until an affordable housing or community use is found for it. Whether the idea now is to turn it into permanent public open space isn’t clear from the report.
But Royal Park is a different site, and it’s difficult to see what bearing it could have in terms of the planning process on the decision to refuse or approve the application off Victoria Rd that’s being taken on Thursday.
So, it remains to be seen whether the councillors – who have been arguing that the facilities are sorely needed for exercise by a local population that suffers from high rates of obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease – will back down once they’ve seen the QC’s advice.
Or risk a potentially costly appeal.