‘No-one in power is listening’ – mum’s fear over building impact on seriously ill son

An aerial shot of the proposed development site.

By John Baron

A Pudsey mum had made a desperate plea to protect her son from the serious risk building a housing development yards from her home could pose to her son’s life.

Emma Thornton fears dust generated by the building of 50 new affordable homes and four apartments on a greenfield site off Owlcotes Road could prove fatal for her six-year-old son George, who has been battling a rare form of cancer – Adrinocortico carcinoma – since September 2019.

Detailed plans by Leeds Federated Housing were approved in principle last year and proposed amendments to the scheme are due to be debated by councillors tomorrow – but Miss Thornton fears the decision to build the homes could have serious consequences for her family.

Miss Thornton said: “We have been asking developers Leeds Federated Housing to move the two houses closest to us away from our house but they’ve refused – we’re not against them building social housing homes on the site. We asked if they could move us into one of their properties during construction just to protect George, but they refused.

An artist’s impression of some of the houses in the Pudsey plans.

“What can I do to protect my son? No one in power is listening. George is immune compromised and life itself poses many risks to him. We daren’t even take him to indoor play areas because of the high risk of infection from other children. 

“George has undergone several major operations to remove tumours over the past four years. He has one kidney, no adrenal glands, he’s had half his liver and gallbladder removed and has adrenal insufficiency (a life-threatening condition) due to having no adrenal function. George has reduced lung capacity due to having dual lung surgery to have tumours removed from both his lungs.

“George still battles every day for life. He takes twice daily chemotherapy along with a long list of medications to keep him alive, medications to help him not feel sick, ones to balance his blood pressure, ones to replace his lack of adrenal function and every day is a balancing act of risk and life. But it is one we LIVE.”

Miss Thornton says George’s condition is palliative, but says the development would ‘put her son’s life at risk’ if the building work goes ahead.

“We know that the advice given to children receiving chemotherapy is to avoid building dust as this can contain fungal, viral and bacterial spores as they are susceptible to potentially life-threatening infections from dust particles,” she added.

“Yet Leeds City Council and Leeds Federated Housing are prepared to put our son’s life at risk if plans get passed just meters away from our boundary, despite having received medical and professional evidence that this poses a risk to George’s life.”

Andrew Carter
Cllr Andrew Carter

Councillor’s concern

Her concerns are being supported by Councillor Andrew Carter (Cons, Calverley & Farsley). He said: “This is one of the most heartbreaking cases I have ever had to deal with as a councillor – it’s a dreadful situation.

“Nobody can argue against the need for more social housing. But the gable end of one of the rows will dominate this little lad’s garden space, which is his haven. It could also put his life at risk. Over past two years we have asked for two plots to be removed, but Leeds Federated have refused.

“Planning officers can tell us about policies and the like. But councillors have a duty of care to the residents who live in Owlcotes Road. That includes little George. Members on the plans panel tomorrow need to tell Leeds Federated that. Tomorrow is a big test for the planning department and members on the planning committee. This is on their heads. I will continue to do everything I can to support Emma and her family. We need to put people before policies, bureaucracy and red tape.”

Leeds Federated’s response

A spokesperson from Leeds Federated Housing said: “We are deeply sympathetic to the needs of Miss Thornton and, of course, her son George and have adapted the planned development in Owlcotes in response to their concerns.  

“The original outline planning permission for the new homes at Owlcotes was granted in September 2021 for the provision of a maximum of 77 new homes on the site, which has been substantially reduced to just 54.

“We have moved a number of plots to provide a separation distance significantly in excess of normal planning standards; and there is proposed a 3m deep landscape buffer strip to the rear of their home, to provide for greater privacy.

“We appointed Spire Environmental Consultants to undertake a dust assessment for the planned construction. Their assessment being that the potential for dust impact is of negligible risk. However, we have plans in place to implement a series of dust control measures should a dust event occur.

“We did consider whether providing an alternative place to live for the family during construction was helpful but concluded that it wasn’t something we could offer, and we were also concerned it would be hugely disruptive for the family. As you would expect local housing need does mean that we don’t have properties that are empty in the local area. 

“As a not-for-profit housebuilder who will own and manage the homes once built, we will always prioritise the needs of our neighbours during the construction phase of any project.”

Leeds Civic Hall.

Panel debate

Proposals to be discussed by councillors tomorrow include landscaping, appearance and layout. It also features ways of screening dust from neighbouring properties including the use of sprayers that are automatically triggered by dust, means of dust particle monitoring and other dust suppression measures. The development will not be allowed to start before 1 January 2025.

A council report says the development exceeds the minimum spacing standards for properties.

A council planning officer’s report concludes: “The proposal is in accordance with the existing site allocations, and this was afforded very significant weight in consideration of the outline application. This is such that the proposals here are bringing forward the Reserved Matters of appearance, landscaping, layout, and scale for consideration and determination by Members. 

“The personal circumstances and sensitivity of the family who have been the subject of the Equality Impact Assessment have been carefully and fully considered through this application and as described in this report, the scheme has been amended, and further mitigation proposed, to reduce the impact of this development on this family.”

The agenda and council documents for next Thursday’s Leeds Civic Hall meeting (1.30pm) can be read here.

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