A West Leeds councillor has asked for controversial plans for housing on a Wortley sports pitch to decided by the Secretary of State instead of Leeds City Council.
Cllr David Blackburn (Farnley & Wortley, Green) has written to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, claiming Leeds Council has a prejudicial interest over recently submitted plans to build local authority housing on off Oldfield Lane in Wortley.
He said the council ‘cannot be seen to be acting independently and in an open-minded fashion’ over the outline application to establish the principle of housing and access on the former TV Harrison sports ground.
His claim comes the same week that local campaigners had their request to register the ground as an asset of community value refused by the council for a fourth time.
The council said it wanted to develop the site for housing, subject to planning permission. A council report said:
“It is not realistic to think that there can continue to be non-ancillary use of the site which will further (whether or not in the same way) the social Wellbeing or social interests of the local community.”
But Cllr Blackburn criticised the decision and said:
“The TV Harrison Community Action Group have applied for the site to be registed as an asset of community value on three occasions only for Leeds City Council to reject these out of hand. In fact on the third occasion the decision was legally challenged and subsequently quashed. However, yesterday, 22 December, the Council once again turned down the request even after losing their legal case.
“It is clear that the Council are hell-bent on building houses on this site, no matter what the consequences.
“Because of this I do not believe that Leeds City Council as the Planning Authority, can take a planning decision on this matter with an open mind.
“I would therefore ask that this application be called-in by the Secretary of State in that the Local
Planning Authority has a prejudicial interest in this matter and cannot be seen to be acting independently and in an open-minded fashion.”
The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has the power to ‘call in’ planning applications rather than letting the local authority decide. The secretary of state will normally only do this if the application conflicts with national policy in important ways, or is nationally significant.
Becoming an Asset of Community Value gives communities a right to bid to buy a property or land on the open market if the property owner decides to sell – if is believed to be of value to their social interests or social wellbeing.
Conservative leader also voices concern
The leader of the opposition on Leeds City Council has also reacted with disappointment that the TV Harrison sports ground will not be made an Asset of Community Value.
Cllr Andrew Carter (Cons, Calverley & Farsley) said that the area of green space was given to the people of Leeds and should remain accessible and ideally used as a sports facility. He said:
“I am extremely disappointed. The legality of this decision needs challenging – this sports field was given to the people of Leeds and is a valuable piece of green space in
a densely populated area.
“It is relatively small in size and could easily have been saved for the benefit of the people who live nearby. I am disappointed with this decision and support continued opposition to the plans that will see the site re-purposed.”
The former TV Harrison ground has been at the centre of a community campaign to save it from development for almost two years and is known as Wortley’s Wembley as it’s where Leeds United stars of the past learned their trade.
The TV Harrison Action Group is opposing the sale of the ground by trustees of the Leeds Schools Sports Association to Leeds City Council, which is hoping to use the land to build up to 60 houses on. They say the area lacks facilities for young people and the community to use and have gathered a petition containing more than 4,000 names.
The group held a number of events on the field this year, bringing it back into informal use after the field was left to become overgrown for 15 years.
WLD has approached the campaign for a comment on the latest developments.
The field has been used for sport since at least 1850. It was bought by public subscription in 1928 and is held in trust by the Leeds Schools Sports Association (LSSA) to be used as a sports pitch. Leeds City Council owns a quarter of the site and has completed the purchase of the rest of the site from LSSA.
The ground also has strong historic links to Leeds United as the venue for the Leeds City Boys club, a representative team made up of the best players from Leeds’ schools. Its illustrious past saw it play host to former Leeds United stars such as John Charles, Brian Deane and Paul Reaney.
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