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Judge orders Leeds to send back green belt allocations to Whitehall

Words: Huw Morris
Morley, Leeds green belt

The High Court has decreed that all green belt allocations in Leeds City Council’s Site Allocations Plan (SAP) should be sent back to the secretary of state for redetermination.

The ruling follows the court’s earlier findings that there were several errors of law in the process leading to the plan’s adoption following a challenge by the Aireborough Neighbourhood Development Forum in June. 

The decision is expected to compound the council’s ability to deliver housing growth, a particular challenge for Leeds. It is the second-largest planning authority outside of London with a population of 784,000 people and two-thirds of its area designated as green belt.

The judgment also presents a significant obstacle to the development of 12,481 homes initially allocated in the draft SAP for building in the green belt. 

The 37 SAP site allocations will be sent back for review along with any changes the council seeks to make. These sites must also remain part of the green belt until a new allocations document is adopted.

Mrs Justice Lieven, who noted that the effect of the ruling would reduce the city’s housing land supply from seven to six years, said she made the decision despite the council’s claims that it would cause  “enormous administrative problems, expense and difficulties in the planning process”. But she added this “would be equally true of quashing the SAP and starting again”.

She said: “In either case, the council will not have in place an adopted plan which they can use to show a five-year land supply. I fully understand the concern about the serious disadvantages of planning through applications and appeals rather than being plan-led. 

“However, this has to be balanced against green belt releases which have not been adequately justified and which were made with a material error of fact. Once I have determined that merely requiring the giving of further reasons is not an appropriate remedy, then delay and concomitant problems with a five-year land supply are inevitable.”

The council said it would make proposals in due course. “The appointed examination inspector will then give consideration, report, and make any such recommendations to the council, as appropriate,” it said in a statement.

“Consequently, all formerly adopted site allocations for housing, as well as mixed-use allocations including housing, that were, immediately before the SAP’s adoption, in the green belt are now to be treated as not adopted.

“This relates to 37 sites. The remainder of the SAP remains adopted.”

Andrew Carter, leader of Leeds’ Conservative opposition group, warned that the ruling could leave the city’s green belt sites vulnerable to development until the plan is approved by government once again.

“This is a very vulnerable position for the council to be in and it must now move quickly to protect green belt sites across the city,” he said.

“However, I must also say that this is a self-inflicted wound by the council as we simply didn’t need to be in this position. Time and again we argued, including at the SAP hearings and at full council meetings, that the Leeds housing number was too high and that too many green belt sites had been allocated for development.”

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