By John Baron
A High Court judge has quashed Leeds City Council’s ‘unlawful’ decision to grant outline planning permission for housing on a Wortley sports field.
The judgment means the local authority must think again after Leeds City Council’s City Plans Panel approved outline plans to build 61 council houses on the TV Harrison site at a meeting in September 2021.
It’s the latest legal setback for the council, and the fourth High Court legal battle the council has lost against campaigners fighting to preserve the Oldfield Lane site as a sports pitch for community use.
The land has been restored and maintained by the local community and is used for sports, including football matches. Part of the land is owned by Leeds City Council and leased to Leeds School Sport Association (LSSA), which owns the remaining three quarters of the land.
Michael Meadowcroft, Chair of the TV Harrison Sports Ground Association, hailed the ‘game changing’ decision and said:
“Once again the Leeds City Council’s planning decision to build on the T V Harrison Sports Ground has been overturned in the High Court. It means that the campaign to safeguard this sports ground has taken a further huge step forward.
“The hope of the campaign is that the city council will now see the light and accept that the TV Harrison site should remain as a well-used and much loved Wortley asset and let us get on with returning it to its former glory.
“We are just a local voluntary organisation which has only resorted to legal action as a last resort. Every time we apply for Judicial Review of a Council decision we risk huge amounts of money in costs if we were to lose. The city council’s costs over the four cases amount to over £130,000.
“The fact that our David has won against the council’s Goliath is due, above all, to our splendid lawyers.”
Mr Meadowcroft told WLD that he hoped the Leeds Schools Sports Association would now accept campaigners’ proposal to buy the ground, which would still need successful funding bids and fundraisers to fund it.
He also confirmed that he would also be ‘happy’ to work in partnership with Leeds United, who have recently been linked with buying the land.
WLD understands Leeds United is interested in buying the land for some kind of youth facility, after proposals for a new training ground at the former Matthew Murray High School were ended last year.
LSSA’s Peter McQuillen-Strong said in a statement to both WLD and the YEP that they have had no communication with Leeds United regarding the field. But he added: “As an association we are intent on ensuring that the best outcome is obtained for the school children of Leeds. We are open to any sale that allows us to ensure the continued excellent provision of sport for children.”
A Leeds United spokesperson said: “Whilst it would be inappropriate for us to make any comment at this stage, we are very aware of the situation at the TV Harrison Sports Ground.”
All four successful legal challenges to the council decisions have been brought by TV Harrison CIC, a community interest company represented by law firm Leigh Day and Jenny Wigley QC of Landmark Chambers.
In the judgment handed down today, Mr Justice Eyre accepted TV Harrison CIC’s ground of claim that Leeds City Council was in breach of Breach of s. 70 (2) Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and s. 38(6) Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 because it had failed to have regard to policy N6 of its own Unitary Development Plan, which specifically protects playing fields such as TV Harrison Sports Grounds.
TV Harrison CIC challenged the council under the established proposition that a decision maker’s decision “will be open to challenge if he fails to have regard to a policy in the development plan which is relevant to the application or fails properly to interpret it”.
When the application was presented at planning committee, the planning officer did not mention policy N6 in his report and the chair used a casting vote to grant permission. TV Harrison CIC argued that there was a material possibility that the fact that the playing field was designated and protected in the development plan would have tipped the balance in favour of refusal.
The Leeds Site Allocations Plan (SAP) allocates the land for housing, but city council chief executive Tom Riordan had admitted that this was a decision based on a miscalculation of the amount of outdoor sports green space available in Wortley.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Eyre said:
“In order to determine the application lawfully the Defendant had to have regard to policy N6. It had to consider that policy and made a judgement as to its interrelation with the SAP and the allocation there of the Site for housing subject to the site requirements. As Miss Wigley QC put it, the Defendant had to grapple with the consequences of the policy N6. That was not done and as a consequence the Decision was flawed as a matter of law.”
Previous legal challenges saw an earlier granting of outline planning permission for housing quashed in August 2021.
Additionally, in January 2022 a judge ruled that Leeds City Council’s refusal to list the sports ground as an asset of community value (ACV) was unlawful – also for the second time.
Ricardo Gama, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, added: “TV Harrison CIC believes the fact that this is the fourth decision by Leeds City Council relating to TV Harrison Sports Ground to be quashed suggests that the council is determined to keep pushing the development regardless of the legal protections in place for sports fields such as this.
“Our client hopes that this latest judgment will cause council officers to rethink their approach and, at the very least, to make sure that all council policies are properly applied.”
Council ‘considers its position’
A spokesperson for Leeds City Council said in a statement this afternoon: “The council is currently further considering its position in light of the judgement of the High Court handed down today.”
In the past the council has argued that there is a growing need for quality local authority family homes in the area.
History of the site
The site has been a sports ground since 1857 and achieved fame in 1928 when a group of local schoolteachers organised a public appeal to buy the ground in order to save it being built on.
Backed by the Yorkshire Evening Post the appeal raised the present day of equivalent of £140,000 and, it was said at the time, the ground was saved for the schoolchildren of Leeds “in perpetuity.”
It became the headquarters of the Leeds City Boys team and many Leeds United stars played there including David Batty, Brian Deane, David Harvey, Stuart McCall, Paul Madeley, Paul Reaney, Micah Richards, Alan Smith and Noel Whelan. It became known locally as ‘Wortley’s Wembley’.
The key teacher in the 1928 campaign was Tom Vernon Harrison and, when he died the following year, the ground was named after him.
The ground was entrusted to a trust, now the Leeds Schools’ Sports Association, which abandoned the ground in 2005 and wished to sell it to the Leeds City Council for a housing development.
The TV Harrison Sports Ground Campaign Group was formed and to stop the proposed development it took the city council to Court. In August 2021 the High Court quashed the City Council’s first grant of planning permission to develop the site. The Council’s second grant of planning permission is currently the subject of a further judicial review.
In January this year Mr Justice Lane quashed the council’s decision to refuse the campaign’s application to have the site listed as an asset of community value.
The campaign group has already restored the football pitch and regular local league matches are played on it.
Follow WLD’s ongoing coverage of the TV Harrison issue here.