Leeds and Bradford need a strategic solution to avoid sprawl #NPPF

Leeds has been losing a number of high profile planning appeals for Greenfield housing and is now facing allocating several thousand new houses on greenfield sites.

Similarly Bradford is proposing allocating many thousands of houses in the valleys to its West, with some villages facing 600 extra houses each.  Naturally this is causing some opposition.

It would be very easy to cry build brownfield, there are many sites, not greenfield.

But West Yorkshire faces particular pressures.

Firstly the shortfall is particularly high, especially in Leeds which faces over a 10,000 unit shortfall, around three years of supply.  The truth is the pressures are demographic and economic, the sub-region being much more successful than any other northern sub-region.

Secondly the number of ‘suitable and available’ sites is not bottomless.  Bradford reckons it only just has enough SHLAA sites to cover its housing provision levels.  West Yorkshire is not like Manchester or Birmingham, there is not a vast seemingly bottomless supply of brownfield sites.  Vacancy rates are much mower than elsewhere in the North of England and so of course are turnover rates.

Clearly there are sites stalled in the recession and no longer considered viable, but recent appeals in Leeds have shown these as numbering several hundred units only – they arent enough.

The problem is that a conventional solution to this, episodic greenfield releases is not a ‘smart growth’ solution.  It would place housing away from public transport and services and would wreck the character of many attractive pennine villages.

Both Leeds and Bradford have large areas of land which is not in the best use for the location.  In Bradford for example there have been colossal planning mistakes.  A retail park and tesco cover many hectare just north of the town centre and Forster Square Station.  In Leeds there is a huge area of riverside land near the City Centre the process of redevelopment for mixed uses had begun.

We need to move out much of the low value industry to peripheral locations near the Motorway or Leeds Bradford airport and link by good public transport to the cities.  This would result in some green belt loss, but because it would enable a smart growth solution it would be much less than the alternative.   The retails sheds in Bradford need to be redeveloped into mall and shop floorspace in a redeveloped City Centre with high density family townhouses in terraces alongside the canal, with a tram route running the several miles along its length.   Similarly in Leeds we need to develop a new town in town alongside the river.  In the longer term we may need a planned major expansion of one or more of the satellite towns.

This is just one idea.  It would require mayor development corporations, and the recouping of land values through TIF to make it work.  And in the localist world would require the cities to come together to make it happen.

What we are seeing in West Yorkshire is not planning but the operation of the market on the softest sites when certain planning flags are triggered.  We need a proper strategic study to assess the alternatives.