An Exercise in Coercion ?

At today’s meeting of Plans Panel West, councillors were given a mind numbing cocktail of misinformation and omission which might have fooled Solomon. And in case that wasn’t enough, there was even a bribe thrown in and a threat that the School might sue if no decision was made on the Leeds Girls High planning applications.


Senior planning officer Tony Clegg told councillors that the applications would “preserve the best of the 1905 building with loss of the unattractive later additions.” The truth is that the applications would result in demolition of 50% of the original school building.

Whilst acknowledging that UDP policy N6(i) requires that replacement playing fields be located in the “same locality”, senior planning officer Paul Gough claimed that in the case of the School, “same locality” means anywhere in Leeds, since the catchment area of the School includes the whole of Leeds. But since the School’s catchment area also includes Harrogate, if Paul Gough’s interpretation of “same locality” is correct, it would mean that the Leeds UDP allows playing fields to be transferred to another city, which is clearly absurd.

Paul Gough said that it doesn’t matter if our area loses the tennis courts on the Headingley site, because the public has never had access to them, and because they’ve been replaced by tennis courts at Alwoodley, to which the public does have access. But according to the Grammar School at Leeds website, the only sports facilities at Alwoodley that are available to members of the public, are indoor sports facilities, and these do not include tennis courts. And the indoor sports facilities are available only on a for hire basis.


Paragraph 10 of PPG17 states, “Developers will need to consult the local community and demonstrate that their proposals are widely supported by them”. Yet even though over 1,300 local people have objected to the School’s plans, planning officers didn’t mention paragraph 10 or the fact that it gives residents a right of veto on development on open space on the site.

UDP policy N6(ii) states, “Development of playing pitches will not be permitted unless there is no shortage of pitches in an area in relation to pitch demand locally.” That there’s a shortage of pitches in our area is demonstrated by the fact that the six schools within one mile of the Leeds Girls High site have just 29% of the playing pitch requirement of the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 (SPRs). And yet planning officers made no mention of the SPRs. Neither did they mention the thousands of students who live in our area and who play football, rugby and tennis on our local park, because the university’s own facilities are several miles away at Weetwood and Bodington. And whilst acknowledging that the heads of five local schools have asked for all three playing fields to be acquired for the use of their pupils, senior planning officer Paul Gough sought to play down the importance of this clear evidence of demand for pitches in our area by saying that Education Leeds has concerns about the safety of pupils being transported to the Headingley site and the possibility that children could be injured by needles on the site.


Paul Gough told councillors that if they approve the applications, the School will make Ford House Garden available to the public on a ten year lease. When councillors said they didn’t feel this was for long enough, the School’s representative said that if in the future, the council approves the School’s application to build on the Victoria Road Protected Playing Pitch, they can negotiate on Ford House Garden. Clearly the offer on Ford House Garden is a bribe designed to achieve planning permission on the Victoria Road Protected Playing Pitch. What Paul Gough failed to point out to councillors is that Ford House Garden is itself a Protected Playing Pitch, and therefore, not open to negotiation.


Chief Planning Officer Phil Crabtree told councillors that the School was considering taking legal action for non determination. What Mr Crabtree didn’t tell councillors was what he should have said to the School in response. Namely, that the reason for the delay has been the School’s failure to supply a satisfactory PPG17 audit, combined with his own department’s reluctance to proceed to panel without one.


Fortunately, the councillors of Plans Panel West could see what was going on and decided to defer making a decision until after they’d been supplied with a great deal more information.


Minutes of Meeting of Plans Panel West – 12.8.10
Minutes of Meeting of Plans Panel West – 12.8.10 (musical version)

Who runs Leeds, our elected councillors, or unelected bureaucrats at the Planning Department?

This Thursday, the 12th August, the councillors of Plans Panel West led by Councillor Neil Taggart, will decide applications from the Grammar School at Leeds to build on the former Leeds Girls High School playing fields at Headingley. Logic dictates that the councillors will refuse the applications, since Leeds City Council’s Unitary Development Plan gives N6 Protected status to all three Leeds Girls High playing pitches. But factors other than logic are at work. At a meeting of a planning committee last October, senior planning officer Christine Naylor told Plans Panel West that the Leeds Girls High School playing fields are “brownfield sites” and therefore ripe for development. What Ms Naylor said is at odds with national planning guidance. Planning Policy Guidance 17 clearly states at paragraph 14, “Parks, recreation grounds, playing fields and allotments must not be regarded as previously developed land″. According to Manchester’s Head of Planning in a report he submitted last year to a Manchester City Council Scrutiny Board, “National planning policy in Planning Policy Guidance Note 17 (PPG17) provides clear guidance that playing fields must not be considered as previously developed land or as it is more commonly known ‘brownfield’ land. In planning terms school playing fields are therefore ‘greenfield’ sites that fall within the general definition and protection given to all defined playing fields.”

The Unitary Development Plan gives N6 Protected status to the Leeds Girls High School playing fields out of recognition that Hyde Park and Headingley are deprived in terms of playing pitch provision. N6 status is given irrespective of who owns pitches, or whether the public has ever had access to them. Not only does the UDP protect these pitches from development, but via policy N3 it confers a duty on the local authority to acquire them for the community should the opportunity arise. Such an opportunity has arisen now. With the girls’ school having gone to Alwoodley, the way is clear for the Council to acquire the Protected Playing Pitches at the Headingley site. But instead of trying to protect the playing fields, so that they can be purchased for the use of local people, Leeds City Council’s planning department is recommending to the councillors of Plans Panel West that they give their approval to the applications to build on the playing fields.

I call on the councillors of Plans Panel West when they meet this Thursday, not to listen to the planning department, but instead, to stand up for the policies laid down in the UDP and in so doing, to stand up for the people of Hyde Park and Headingley. In this way, they will make it clear that it is our elected representatives who run this city, and not an unelected bureaucratic elite which apparently doesn’t even know the difference between a brownfield site and a greenfield site.

Royal Park School – the council thinks it’s in Harehills !

“Vision for Leeds 2004 to 2020” is a document produced by Leeds Initiative, a body which describes itself as “a public, private & community partnership for Leeds, led by the City Council”. According to their website, “The Vision for Leeds is a long-term strategy for the economic, social and environmental development of the city”.

On page 67 of the Vision it states :

Leeds is a unique city made up of very different places and communities, including rural areas, market towns, outlying areas and inner-city neighbourhoods. Every neighbourhood, village and town in Leeds needs its own identity and role.

This is very true. So why then on the same page is there a picture of Royal Park Road with the caption “A street in Harehills” ? The photograph with its caption reveal the above statement to be nothing more than another meaningless Leeds City Council platitude. It’s clear that to the people behind this document, one inner city area is pretty much the same as any other.

Another overwhelming vote to retain all three Leeds Girls High N6 Protected Playing Pitches

Tonight’s public meeting was attended by over a hundred people and culminated in an overwhelming vote in favour of a resolution to retain all three Leeds Girls’ High Protected Playing Pitches and for Leeds City Council to purchase them at playing pitch value (about £12,000). There were no votes against and only three abstentions. This result reaffirms the recommendation of the Community Planning Brief, produced in 2008 under the chairmanship of planning consultant Peter Baker, who now chairs Leeds Civic Trust, and makes clear that building on the N6 Protected Pitches is unacceptable.

The meeting had begun with a presentation from planning consultants employed by the school, Peter Torrible, Stuart Natkus and Sue Sparling. During this presentation, Ms Sparling repeatedly referred to the main school hall and main school wings (which the school would like to demolish) as later additions. It was pointed out from the audience that Ms Sparling was wrong to refer to these features as later additions. They were on the original plans approved by the council in March 1905; were toured by Queen Victoria’s daughter when she opened the main school building in 1906; and in 1907, a women’s rights crusader described the school hall as “the prettiest she had seen”.

Mr Torrible said that the school had already replaced the Headingley playing fields at Alwoodley, and that this was all that was required by PPG17.

Peter Baker disputed this and said PPG17 goes further than requiring the provision of replacement facilities for existing users. He said that in this area, the playing field provision isn’t up to standard, and where this is the case, PPG17 requires that local authorities improve that provision, procuring privately owned playing fields if necessary. He said that any replacement is inadequate if it isn’t in the vicinity.

Planning officer Tim Poupard said that Sport England were consulted on the school’s original proposal to establish replacement playing fields on Spen Lane and opposed it as being inadequate. He confirmed Sport England has been consulted on the school’s latest proposal which states that replacement playing fields already exist at Alwoodley, and a response is awaited.

Councillor John Illingworth addressed senior planning officer Paul Gough and said that Leeds is one of the worst cities in the country in terms of playing pitch provision, and Headingley is the second most deprived area in the city in this respect. Councillor Illingworth said that he’s a biochemist and knows that exercise is more effective than drugs for improving the health of people with heart disease and diabetes, conditions that are prevalent in South Headingley’s Asian community. Councillor Illingworth said he didn’t know why Mr Gough won’t protect the playing pitches as the law requires. He said we need playing pitches and we need them in this area.

Mr Torrible said that in return for planning permission to build on the main school site Protected Playing Pitch, the school would allow the public to use Ford House Garden. He added that provided the school was also subsequently given planning permission to build on the Chestnut Avenue Protected Playing Pitch, it would give Ford House Garden outright to the community for use as a public park.

Councillor Martin Hamilton said he welcomed the School’s offer of a new park, but said that it should be in addition to the playing fields – not a replacement. He said he didn’t think it was acceptable to build on any of the playing pitches on this site.

Martin Staniforth, chair of North Hyde Park Neighbourhood Association, said that developers very often end up building something entirely different to what was originally agreed, and asked what guarantee there was that this wouldn’t happen with the Leeds Girls High School site. There was no response.

MP Greg Mulholland said that what happens to this site is critically important to the local community and added that the school saying they’ll replace the playing fields at Alwoodley is unacceptable.

Anne White said she lives overlooking the playing field on Chestnut Avenue and can confirm that it’s been used unofficially by the community without the school’s permission for many years, and is still being used.

Darren Dixon said that from where he works, he sees the traffic congestion on Headingley Lane every day. He said that the filter bed development at West Park greatly added to the congestion, and should never have been allowed. He said that the school’s proposal would further add to the congestion and he added that the planning department should not be allowing additional habitations in an area that’s already congested.

In response to the planning consultants’ claim that car ownership on the site would be restricted, Alan Slomson asked in what sense two parking spaces per dwelling could be regarded as restricted car ownership.

A resident pointed out that if the playing fields get built on, all that will happen is that the new accommodation will be occupied by students, to add to the population imbalance in the area. In response, planning officer Tim Poupard said that covenants could be imposed which could prevent this. Mercia Southon said that there’s just such a covenant on the Rampart Road flats but the flats are full of students because the covenant is never enforced. She added that there hasn’t been a single example of a no student covenant being enforced in Leeds.

Tony Green asked Sue Sparling how many people and how many cars would be brought onto the main school site if the School’s proposal went ahead. Ms Sparling said she didn’t know. Tony asked if she could give him a rough idea. Ms Sparling said she was unable to.

When pressed by Greg Mulholland to agree to talks with the community, Mr Torrible said that there had already been eighteen months of talks where the community’s requirements had been at the centre of the table. He said that these had resulted in the current proposals which would now be going to a planning committee to which people could make representations. Under further pressure from Mr Mulholland, Mr Torrible said that the community now has a consultation period until early January. He said he’d be happy to work with a working party during that period. He said there has already been eighteen months of negotiations with the community and he’d be happy to sit down with a working party to discuss the result of these eighteen months of consultation.

During the course of the evening, ninety seven people signed a petition asking for all three playing fields to retain N6 Protected status, and for them to be bought by the council for the community at playing pitch price.

Also in attendance this evening were Councillor Judith Blake and Mr Asghar Khan. Mr Khan is Labour candidate for Headingley in the May 2010 local government elections.

After the meeting was over, David Hall remarked to me that when the Grammar School moved onto the green belt at Alwoodley, it’s as if it decided to take its green space with it.

Public meeting on the Leeds Girls High planning application – 7pm Monday 7.12.09 at City Church

The Grammar School at Leeds has now re-presented its planning applications for the Leeds Girls High site. These are practically the same as the ones rejected by the community a year ago, but with a few minor changes. The effect is still the same : building development on the Protected Playing Pitches (the pitches have Protected status in the city’s Unitary Development Plan because the adjacent area is considered severely deprived in terms of playing pitch provision).

A public meeting has been arranged to enable residents to air their views on the revised plans. It will be attended by several Leeds City Council planning officers, including senior planning officer Paul Gough. Also in attendance will be Peter Torrible, the planning consultant who obtained planning permission for the Grammar School at Leeds to extend onto the green belt at Alwoodley to accommodate the girls from Leeds Girls High School.

Here are the details of the meeting :

Time : 7pm
Date : Monday 7 December
Venue : City Church, Headingley Lane (opposite the Leeds Girls High main site)

City Church is an impressive Victorian buidling designed by Cuthbert Broderick, the architect responsible for the Corn Exchange and Town Hall. It’s located at the junction of Cumberland Road and Headingley Lane – see map.

Public meeting about the anti-social behaviour caused by residents of Devonshire Hall

A few weeks ago, a young man urinated in public on Cumberland Road. It happened early in the evening just a few feet away from me, well before you’d have thought someone his age would be the worse for drink. So when it was announced that there was to be a meeting to discuss anti-social behaviour in the Cumberland Road area, I decided to attend. The meeting took place in Devonshire Hall. Local residents described how student residents speed in their cars up Cumberland Road; how they shout to each other as they walk up and down the road at all hours; how they buy alcohol at the shops on Hyde Parker Corner and drink it as they walk back to the hall; how they run along the tops of residents’ car roofs, push over wheelie bins etc, etc. One lady described the distress she experiences when she hears female students screaming and worries that a girl might be under attack, although she realises (because it happens every night), that this is unlikely. Wardens from the hall explained that most of the trouble makers are known to them. They said that the first time a student transgresses, they’re spoken to. Then, for a subsequent transgression, they’re given a £50 fine. Amanda Jackson from the university’s community relations department said that the university takes the problem very seriously and replies to anyone making a complaint. I asked PC Carol Munsey why the police aren’t enforcing the Woodhouse Moor DPPO which covers Hyde Park Corner and extends up Headingley Lane. PC Munsey was let off having to reply as Councillor Monaghan said that the meeting wasn’t about Woodhouse Moor. The meeting ended with the Headingley councillors promising to look into installing more litter bins, lighting and mobile CCTV. The possibility was also mentioned of extending the DPPO. But what’s the good of extending something that the police can’t be bothered to enforce. Judging by tonight’s performance, things aren’t going to improve around here anytime soon.

The special relationship

This afternoon I went to the Civic Hall to a meeting of the city centre planning committee to object to the planning department’s handling of an item on the agenda – an application from Leeds University to build a massive warehouse-like building on the former Grammar School Protected Playing Pitch. The planning officer with responsibility for the application recommended approval of the application. I pointed out to the committee that planning officers are required to give a balanced view, one which takes into account comments from residents, but that the report recommending approval of the application had been completed prior to the deadline for receipt of comments, and before any objections had been received. I asked how the planning officer could possibly have reached a balanced view, when he’d arrived at his view well before the deadline for receipt of objections. The committee then gave its approval to the application. No one from the university spoke in favour of the application. But then they didn’t have to – the planning officer had said everything that was necessary.

The planning officer will have discussed this application many times with the university, whereas he has had no meetings with members of the public. The only opportunity for members of the public to express a view was when they submitted written comments, and in the brief three minutes when I was allowed to address the committee. For this report to have been prepared before the deadline for receipt of comments had expired, shows the planning department’s routine disregard for the wishes and needs of ordinary people and its special relationship with Leeds University – something which has been apparent ever since this council first agreed to to let the university build on the former Grammar School Protected Playing Pitch.

I wonder if what occurred today is legal.

(photos courtesy of moniqca and Matthew Everitt)

When a council acts against its own citizens

Leeds City Council closed Royal Park School five years ago. Since then, it’s allowed the school to be vandalised, and has done nothing to repair the resulting damage. Two weeks ago, local residents moved into the school to prevent further deterioration and to make repairs. Everyone in the area rallied round, including a local firm which offered free of charge, to replace lead that had been taken from the roof, provided the council returned it. But instead of giving back the lead, the council handed residents a summons to appear in court. And so, on Monday, residents were ordered to quit the building, which they did the next day. The council also asked for, and was awarded, costs against the residents.

The year that the council closed Royal Park School, 2004, was also the year that it produced a document called “Vision for Leeds 2004 to 2020”. How does the council reconcile its actions over Royal Park School with the promise on page 27 of this document to “involve local people in planning the future of their areas”.

And how does evicting residents from the school and asking for costs against them help to achieve any of these aims contained in the Leeds Strategic Plan :

  • Increase the number of local people engaged in activities to meet community needs and improve the quality of life for local residents.
  • Increase the number of local people that are empowered to have a greater voice and influence over local decision making and a greater role in public service delivery.
  • Enable a robust and vibrant voluntary, community and faith sector to facilitate community activity and directly deliver services.
  • Increase the sense of belonging and pride in local neighbourhoods that help to build cohesive communities.

Whilst it may be true that the “Vision for Leeds 2004 to 2020” and the “Leeds Strategic Plan” aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, it’s also likely to be the case that producing the two documents cost more than it would have cost to give Royal Park School to the community.

(photos courtesy of Yorkshire Post Newspapers)

Justice is blind

Every single complaint that has been made to the council’s Scrutiny Board about the barbeque proposal has been rejected by the Lib Dem, Conservative and BNP councillors who sit on the board. Why is this?

Scrutiny Board chair Councillor Ralph Pryke has described the opponents of the barbeque scheme as “vocal”. His Lib Dem colleague Sue Bentley used similar words a year ago when she described residents who wanted Woodhouse Moor to be included in the DPPO proposed for Hanover and Woodhouse Squares as a “vociferous group”. If those who oppose the Lib Dems are characterised by them is this way, is it equitable that they and their allies should be in control of the boards that scrutinise the workings of the council?

John Illingworth said at the most recent meeting of the Scrutiny Board, “Nemo iudex in sua causa” – No one should be the judge of his own case. And yet this is what happens every time a Scrutiny Board hears a complaint from the community about the barbeque proposal. It’s time for the overseeing of the workings of the council to be taken away from the Scrutiny Board and handed over to an independent body.

(photo courtesy of RaeA)

What’s that helicopter costing us ?

If you’re an aviation enthusiast, you don’t have to travel to the airport to indulge your passion. All that’s necessary is to spend some time in Hyde Park and Woodhouse. For as well as lying under the flight path for Yeadon Airport, there’s a very good chance you’ll get to see the police helicopter – no matter what time of the day or night. And not only will you get to see the helicopter, you’ll also get the chance to hear it. In fact, you’re far more likely to hear it than you are to see it. Anyone who’s had it hover over their home for prolonged periods in the early hours of the morning will testify to that.

I wonder if anyone at West Yorkshire Police has ever weighed the cost of such aircraft against their benefits i.e has any cost benefit analysis been carried out to determine whether we’re getting value for money. One of the costs taken into account by cost benefit analysis is the “opportunity cost”. In the case of a police helicopter, the opportunity cost might be the number of policemen you could have instead of the helicopter. To work this out, all you need to know is the annual cost of running the helicopter, and a policeman’s salary. You then divide the running cost by the salary figure to determine how many bobbies on the beat the helicopter is costing us. According to West Yorkshire Police, the helicopter they use is an MD902 Explorer, and it’s in the air annually for 1,400 hours. According to consultants Conklin & de Dekker one of these helicopters has a variable operating cost per hour of $919 (£576). That means the helicopter has an annual variable operating cost of £806,400. To arrive at the helicopter’s total cost, you’d add on fixed costs such as the salary of the three man crew. This could be around £90,000 assuming the helicopter is manned by three constables earning £30,000, but it’s likely to be much more. So if the helicopter’s annual operating cost is £900,000, that would mean that instead of the helicopter, we could have 30 experienced police constables earning £30,000 per year, 39 new recruits earning £23,000 per year, or 56 PCSO recruits earning £16,000 per year.

In a letter to the Yorkshire Evening Post published earlier this year, Lib Dem councillor Martin Hamilton said that banning barbeques would divert the police away from other priorities. If spending just short of £1 million every year to keep a helicopter in the air is a police priority, then some people might say it’s time their priorities were re-evaluated.


West Yorkshire Police helicopter operating details
Conklin & de Dekker helicopter variable operating costs
Police pay scales

(Photo courtesy of Ulleskelf)