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loses the tennis courts on the Headingley site, because the public has never had access to them, and because they’ve been replaced by tennis courts at Alwoodley, to which the public does have access.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.