New twist as councillors prepare to REJECT Leeds Girls High School sport plans

Campaigners fighting to stop developers building homes on former sports facilities in the Headingley/Hyde Park area of Leeds were boosted after councillors told developers they wouldn’t back their plans.

Leeds Girls High School sports facilities

Map of the proposed development on the site of the former Leeds Girls High School

Members of the south and east plans panel have said they want to REJECT outline proposals  to build 24 houses and a shop on the land off Victoria Road.

Local residents have been calling for the site – which used to be part of the sports facilities of Leeds Girls High School – to be made available to local schools and the community as part of what they call the “Hyde Park Olympic legacy”. They’ve been arguing that the facilities are needed for exercise by a local population that suffers from health problems, a lack of green space and sports facilities.

It’s been a long-running row.

Campaigners, backed by ward councillors and local MPs, were hoping that national body Sport England would intervene once they’d seen fresh evidence of the “regular and prolonged use” made of the site by local people in the past.

Their arguments looked scuppered when that support failed to materialise.

But councillors incredibly said they wanted to OVERTURN recommendations by council planning officers to approve the plans, saying they weren’t prepared to support them because of :

  • health issues in the local community
  • the loss of protected playing fields in a densely populated area
  • and the lack of playing facilities at local schools.

They also argued AGAINST planning officers’ interpretation of key planning and health policies.

Morley Borough Independent councillor Robert Finnigan said he couldn’t approve the plans on a greenfield site. He added:

“The community needs a break in this area. We should make sure we retain them because it is right and proper – we are not here to rubberstamp police, we’re here to add a human element. If we can’t make decisions like this you don’t need a plans panel, you might as well run it through a computer – it’s questionable whether these plans are policy compliant anyway.”

Hyde Park councillor Javaid Akhtar received a round of applause from campaigners at the Civic Hall meeting when he said that there was a lack of open space in the area and questioned the impact on other local businesses. He added: “I know I’m here to judge applications on material planning considerations, but I have to speak with my heart.”

Middleton Park councillor Paul Truswell argued the council could refuse the application on health grounds and also by putting a greater slant on the council’s emerging core strategy than the more dated Unitary Development Plan.

Addressing the meeting, developers urged councillors to make their decision on planning policies rather than ‘moral’ ones. Headingley Cllr Neil Walshaw also addressed the meeting, claiming the bulk of the site was playing fields and therefore not suitable for development. He added:

“If you look at a Google photo of the area you’ll see no-one has gardens in the area – the kids have to play in the streets.”

But council officers stuck to their advice that the plans comply with both the council’s development policies and the provisions of last year’s Health and Social Care Act.  “Officers consider that refusal is not justified and could not be defended successfully on appeal,” they say in a report drafted for the meeting.

But following councillors’ intervention, the planning application by developers Chartford Homes and Holbeck Land will now be BROUGHT BACK to members at a future plans panel meeting – but this time planning officers have been told to compile a report giving  reasons to REFUSE the application.

It’s a case of political will overruling council officers’ recommendations. Either way, expect developers to appeal against the council’s decision should it finally go against them at the next plans panel. Expect this one to run for some time yet …

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