Leeds Site Allocations Plan – Legal Challenge Update

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Leeds Site Allocations Plan – Legal Challenge Update

Leeds Site Allocations Plan – Legal Challenge Update

Adam Jackson & Christopher Darley 10 Dec 2020
In June 2020, the Aireborough Neighbourhood Development Forum successfully challenged Leeds City Council’s Site Allocations Plan (“SAP”) in the High Court under s.113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. All allocations for residential development in the SAP on what were formally Green Belt locations were found to be legally flawed under the ruling.
Our original blog discussed the grounds of this legal challenge and commented on some of the potential implications which could have arisen if Mrs Justice Lieven had concluded that the remedy to this challenge was to quash all Green Belt allocations in the SAP. This potential remedy became a reality when the Order for Relief was handed down from the High Court on the 7th August 2020.
This blog provides some further thoughts on what the Order for Relief means for the future housing land supply in Leeds.

The Remedy

As we expected and mused upon in our previous blog, the Court has ordered that the Council send back 37 Green Belt sites (including one mixed use allocation) to the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspectorate for further examination against up to date evidence and policy. Mrs Justice Lieven stated the following in her Order for Relief:
“It does however seem to me to be appropriate to remit this matter to the Secretary of State, and through him the Inspectorate, rather than quash either the whole or parts of the SAP. It seems reasonable to start from the position that the process should be taken back to the stage where the error of law occurred rather than back to the beginning through quashing.”
Paragraph 31 of the relief judgement concludes:
“The remittal of all GB allocations to the Inspectors will, I accept, cause delay and will impact upon the Council’s ability to show a 5YLS. However, those are not grounds not to remit if that is the only way to remedy the illegality that I have found. The planning judgements that follow, in terms of conformity with the NPPF and whether the tests for GB release are met, are matters for the Council and the Secretary of State and not for the court.”
Leeds City Council is proposing to return each of the 37 Green Belt sites to the Green Belt through a Main Modification to the SAP. This will be subject to a 6 week consultation commencing in early January 2021.

Five Year Housing Land Supply

The Council has produced an updated Five Year Housing Land Supply Statement[1] which shows that, following the deletion of the 37 Green Belt sites, it has a 6.8 year housing land supply. 23% of the supply (equivalent to 1.5 years) is expected to come forward from sites with outline permission or allocated sites without planning permission.
The Council claims that it has produced evidence as part of the SHLAA process to demonstrate that these sites meet the definition of ‘deliverable’ set out in Annex 2 of the NPPF. We have not undertaken a review of this evidence at this stage, however it is possible that sufficient evidence may not exist to show that each of these sites has a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years. In this case, the five year supply would diminish further.

Un-balancing the Housing Land Supply

The Council’s Sustainability Appraisal Addendum[2] sets out how mis-aligned the distribution of new homes now is across Leeds in comparison to the targets set by Core Strategy Policy SP7 (see table 1 below).
Table 1: Housing Distribution compared to Policy SP7 targets

Source: LCC Sustainability Appraisal Addendum 2020

Although the Council’s evidence on housing land supply compared to the most up to date housing requirement shows an overall surplus of 11,268 homes, this surplus is almost exclusively arising from additional supply in the City Centre and Inner Area. There is actually an undersupply of 3,065 homes in the suburbs and outer parts of the City and it does therefore beg the question as to whether the housing needs of residents across all of the City will be met.

Progress on Existing SAP Allocations

In addition to the unbalancing of housing distribution across the City, the deletion of the former Green Belt sites will also have implications for affordable housing need (with the City Centre and Inner Area also having the lowest affordable housing requirements). The Council claims that there will be opportunities for Neighbourhood Plans to address this, although the reality of Neighbourhood Plans seeking to identify land to provide the 904 affordable unit shortfall seems unlikely.
Unsurprisingly, development proposals have been progressed at a number of the sites which are now proposed to be returned to the Green Belt. These include:
  • HG2-174 Wood Lane, Rothwell Garden Centre – Outline application for up to 82 dwellings;

  • HG2-183 Swithens Lane, Rothwell – Full application for 66 dwellings (recently withdrawn);

  • HG2-43 Horsforth Campus – 152 affordable dwellings considered by City Plans Panel on 1 October 2020 (deferred on design grounds);

  • HG2-26 Scarcroft Lodge, Scarcroft – 172 unit care community recommended for approval in August 2019. Legal agreement set to be signed in December 2020.

The return of sites to the Green Belt could therefore lead to the risk of further challenge from developers who have invested significantly in sites which may no longer have a realistic prospect of being developed in the short or medium term.

SAP Review

Rather than undertake a review of the SAP before the end of 2021, the Council is now stating that the remittal evidence it has gathered demonstrates that there is sufficient land allocated for housing and identified for safeguarded land to comply with Core Strategy Housing target (as amended by the CSSR) to 2028. On this basis, it is proposing to delay the SAP review until the Local Plan update is formulated and the outcome of the Planning White Paper proposals have been confirmed.
Whilst it is acknowledged that the Council needs to take swift action in response to the legal judgement, we maintain that a wider review of the SAP should still be undertaken to ensure that it will meet the full range of housing needs for the District, including affordable and family housing in all parts of the City.

Main Modifications

The Council is proposing to run a 6 week consultation on the deletion of the 37 allocations and the return of the land to Green Belt from early January (week commencing 4th Jan) to mid-February 2021. This will be accompanied by the further evidence including the SA Addendum, an addendum to the Habitats Regulations Assessment and a Background Paper which reviews the alternative options and reasoning behind the Council’s approach to delete the allocations. The Council anticipates that Full Council approval will be given in March to submit the modified SAP to the Secretary of State, with the SAP to then be subject to further Examination in Public.
Please contact the Lichfields Leeds office if you would like to discuss the implications of Leeds City Council’s proposed modifications to the SAP in further detail, or if you would like Lichfields to make representations to the ‘SAP Remittal: Proposed Main Modifications’ consultation on your behalf.


[1] Leeds City Council - SHLAA 2020 - Five Year Housing Land Supply Statement[2] Leeds City Council - SAP Remittal - Sustainability Appraisal Addendum