Words: John Baron
Controversial plans to build up to 61 houses on the former TV Harrison ground in Wortley have been approved in principle by Leeds City Council for a second time – but by the narrowest of margins.
“We cannot ignore Sport England’s concerns. Their objection is clear. It is still in community use and is protected by trusts. It is a community asset, there is no denying that.
“What we have done in our community is a miracle. What you saw this morning was done by grandma with a lawnmower.
“We want to play football where we live in the heart of our community. We want a bike track and a cycle track and places where girls can play netball.”
She said a business plan and proposals for improving and maintaining the ground have been put together by campaigners. Ms O’Keefe added:
“The deficiency of outdoor space in Wortley is 12 acres. Armley is also deficient, so Wortley Rec is given to them as part of their allocation. There are five pitches at Wortley Rec – it is not a football pitch, it is a ski slope – you spend more time chasing a football in a gale force wind. There are no toilets, no changing and no parking, and it is not in the heart of our community – it is up a hill.”
Liam Brook, from Leeds City Council’s housing department, said there was an ‘acute need’ for local authority housing, with over 500 people on the waiting list for good quality homes – 100 of these are classed by the council as in severe need.
He said the area had already been allocated for up to 61 houses in the council’s planning blueprint, the Site Allocation Plan (SAP), and that there were strong planning reasons for approving the plans.
Councillors passed the proposals by the narrowest of margins. Five councillors voted to approve the proposals and five voted against. The casting vote in favour of the development came from meeting chair Councillor Eileen Taylor (Lab).
Cllr Colin Campbell (Lib Dem) said:
“Those [who visited] on site will say today that this is a footbaLL pitch, There are posts, it is marked out, it is a playing pitch. We haven’t got to bottom of whether there is a shortage of green space in Wortley in this meeting. I have Some concerns we are losing a football pitch that is used. The rest of the site is of a wilder state and not being used as a public space.
“I really have problems supporting this. I understand demand for affordable housing. I worry about taking commuted sums to other areas what we actually get is a net loss, others will be improved, b ut it will be net loss.”
Dawn Collins (Cons) said that both Leeds City Council and the Leeds Schools Sports Association should have been looking after the site. She said:
“I do agree that we need affordable homes, but this site is owned by two organisations who should have been looking after this site. To come and say today that it is in poor condition and therefore we should put housing on it is not fair to the local community.
“Our officers need to go away and consider whether they can do better, and potentially split the site so they can still have the sports facilities that people in that area desperately want to keep.”
Paul Wray (Lab) hit back at other members, accusing them of ignoring the authority’s own planning policy to curry favour with the public. He said:
“On a personal level I am incredibly sorry for the residents. They wanted to bring this back into use and they have done so after the SAP happened. We have to make a decision from our adopted policies. As much as it pains me, if we are to stand on policy and on process as we so often have to do, we are being hypocrites if we don’t approve it. The policy is what the policy is.
“I accept there is potential to split this site up and compromise, but to pretend that this has not gone through rigour just because it sounds good on a recording that will go out to the public is not how we do policy in this council.”
The council’s decision will be referred to the Secretary of State, who has the power to ‘call in’ the decision within 28 days due to Sport England’s objection.
Council planning officers also told the meeting that a judicial review will be heard by the High Court later this year into the council refusing to make the site an asset of community value. An officer said that in planning terms the argument for housing on the site would outweigh any asset of community value ruling.
A video of today’s meeting can be viewed in full here:
The pitch was disused for about 15 years after the facilities – which were once used by the prestigious Leeds City Boys teams and nicknamed ‘Wortley’s Wembley’ – fell into disrepair.
Members of the TV Harrison Community Action Group have, over the past 12 months, cut the grass and restored the once-overgrown pitch to allow community matches to take place. They argue the land was originally gifted to the children of Leeds in the form of a trust deed.