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Councillors debate pros and cons over Burley Library development – concerns raised over £1,200 monthly cost

By John Baron. Additional reporting: David Spereall

Councillors gave qualified support to plans to turn Grade II Listed former Burley Library building into a co-living scheme with communal facilities – but have said there are obstacles to overcome before the plans can be approved.

Applicant Parklane Group wants to retain and refurbish the historic library building by creating a co-working hub and seven duplex co-living units, with a six-storey extension to the rear to create 71 co-living units and large communal living space.

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The residential development would be targeted at the recent graduate market.

Councillors provided feedback for planning officers and the applicant on how the proposals should be developed. No final decision on the scheme was made. 

They broadly gave qualified support to the principle of the development, but raised some concerns over the lack of affordable housing, parking and suggested design tweaks to the proposed extension.

Burley library closed
The former Burley Branch Library building. Copyright Adrian Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Developers were also criticised after revealing rent would start at £295 a week, rising to £350 a week for more spacious apartments.

That’s despite the fact the complex would be aimed at former students who have just left uni, many of whom would be in low-paid or temporary work.

Concerns: Pudsey councillor Trish Smith.

Speaking at a planning meeting on Thursday where the scheme was discussed, Conservative councillor Trish Smith (Pudsey) said: “£1,300 a calendar month-ish for what is effectively a bed – I think that’s very overpriced.”

Criticising the concept of the scheme, Councillor Smith added: “I think it’s a backward step in terms of accommodation for our residents. I don’t like this idea in our city, I think we’re selling our residents short.”

The library as it appears currently. Picture shown at plans panel, courtesy Leeds City Council

Cllr Colin Campbell (Lib Dem, Otley & Yeadon) said a number of developers are now looking at co-living as a model in Leeds. He has argued for a long time over minimum standards for size of living accommodation and said “this development patently doesn’t meet policy … so we are being asked to set aside policy. We have to think long and hard about that principle.

“Anything that gets Burley Library back in a reasonable condition – and the city council needs to hold its hand on this as they let it happen – must be a good thing. The library is a really significant building on that road. You are going to retain a lot of the interior, which has some real value I think.

“But I do have problems as the rest of what you’re doing isn’t policy compliant. We’re trying to cram too much on this site.”

Julie Heselwood bramley
Cllr Jools Heselwood

Jool Heselwood (Lab, Bramley & Stanningley) also raised concerns about the cost but was supportive of the scheme. She said: “I definitely support this scheme. This is a brilliant move on from being a student.

“As someone with a student son, he’d love living in something like this when he’s older because they’re looking for places to socialise and be with friends and that kind of stuff.

“We have a lot of issues around isolation for people in flats. You’re living in a flat looking out on the world and that really came to the fore during Covid.

“This is also in an area where family housing is used by young professionals as HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) and I’d like to see those properties move back into being family homes.”

An artist’s impression showing how the co-living space may look.

Cllr Neil Walshaw (Lab, Headingley) agreed with the points made by councillors Heselwood and Campbell. “There is an awful lot of good in this project and I don’t have any doubt over the developer’s ability to deliver it and manage it moving forward,” he told the Civic Hall meeting.

Cllr Walshaw added to the concerns over minimum space and suggested a taller building might be the answer.

Meeting chair Cllr James McKenna (Lab, Armley) said: “This is a new type of development for Leeds, we need a policy and to walk through this sensibly. This is a good start.

“It is new to Leeds, we are not talking about replicating London. In Leeds property prices are less than London.”

Jim Mckenna armley
Cllr Jim McKenna

Representatives from applicants Parklane Group said the ground floor co-working space would be open to the public and said they had a reputation for providing high-quality accommodation in the student sector.

Developers said they had altered the original plans to reduce the number of apartments from 98 to 78, which they claimed had helped increase the size of each private living space.

They also say rental payments will be all-inclusive, covering utility bills for residents.

Representing Parklane, Oliver Corbett told councillors: “Although it’s yet to develop in Leeds, the city is keenly suited to the co-living model, as this type of living arrangement is seen as a natural progression from student accommodation and appealling to graduates and young professionals.”

He added that the scheme would “bring life back to the library buiding and a provide a new destination for the community, with the ground floor space being open to the public”.

Parklane head of development Darren Oxley added that the development would bring the former community building back into life and said his organisation was experienced in managing developments and communities like this.

In 2019 Leeds City Council approved similar plans by Parklane Properties to turn the building into work hub office accommodation for young professionals, with a five-storey extension containing 60 one-bedroom and studio flats built behind it.

A decision on the latest plans will be made at a later date.

The documents considered by councillors can be viewed in full here.

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