By John Baron
Plans to build houses on a Wortley sports pitch where past Leeds United stars learned their trade have been approved in principle by planners – despite more than 350 objections.
Councillors on Leeds City Council’s south and west plans panel approved outline proposals for a local authority housing development, with access to the site off Oldfield Lane. The exact number and design of the houses will be decided via a more detailed planning application later this year.
The area is known locally as Wortley’s Wembley, is a treasured landmark which used to be the home of Leeds City Boys team where future Leeds United stars like Paul Reaney, Brian Deane and Noel Whelan.
A campaign to prevent housing being built has led to a community campaign and a petition with more than 4,000 names.
Addressing the meeting, campaigner Clare O’Keefe labelled the proposals ‘unethical and immoral’ and said the sports pitch had been brought back into daily use by the local community. She said:
“It’s not about not wanting social housing.
“Wortley High School playing field was sold recently, and it was sold to private developers – that made us upset.
“Due to an error in this paper, Farnley and Wortley ward is massively deficient in outdoor sports provision by about 15 acres.
“You are proposing to destroy our heritage playing field which has been in the heart of West Leeds since 1857. It was threatened by development in 1928, and the people of Leeds raised money to buy it.”
Leeds City Council’s Laura Whitehead, who is leading the housing project, said there was an urgent need for more social housing in the area. She said more than 500 people were on the waiting list for council housing in the Farnley and Wortley Ward and added:
“Objections have been raised, but we are confident we can address them in our proposals.”
The area has already been allocated for up to 61 houses in the council’s planning blueprint, the Site Allocation Plan (SAP).
Councillors passed the proposals, with five voting for, three against and two abstentions.
Cllr Paul Wray (Lab, Hunslet & Riverside) said he sympathised with the campaign to save the green space, but said there was a ‘dire’ need for council housing near to amenities and employment. He added:
“This has been through rigours of SAP, and was challenged by local ward members at the time.
“As much as the use may have been there, We live in a world of definitions where if something hasn’t met the specific definition set out in law or planning regulations then it isn’t what it is, as much as we might disagrree on a personal level.
“As painful as it is, the principle of development has been decided by the SAP. As much as it’s a sad loss for the community, this is a battle that was long since lost.”
Cllr Jackie Shemilt (Con, Horsforth) said:
“I have greatest respect and sympathy for the local community. There is a tremendous amount of history to this site and it has become an emotive topic. There is additional need for council housing but that has to be balanced against the loss of green space.”
Cllr Kayleigh Brooks (Lab, Little London & Woodhouse) said:
“I can see why it is so emotive but we don’t really have any planning reason to turn this down as I can see it, so I will be voting in favour with a heavy heart.”
Cllr Robert Finnegan (Morley Borough Independent, Morley North)
“I won’t be supporting this. The SAP process was something of a shambles based on unachievable targets. I accept we need council houses. But we should not be prepared to accept council housing at any price, I think it’s about time we made a stand, protect greenfield sites and support the community.”
Cllr Barry Anderson (Cons, Adel & Wharfedale) opposed the plans and said more weight should be put onto consultee Sport England’s concerns about the loss of a playing field.
Cllr Colin Campbell (Lib Dem, Otley & Yeadon)
“We have had a SAP and it has been accepted. Whatever we would like, if this went to appeal and we turned it down I have a suspicion we would lose that appeal on planning grounds.”
Meeting chair Cllr Caroline Gruen (Lab, Bramley & Stanningley) agreedand added:
“I can see how passionate those residents are. I embrace the activity they have been doing on the site. But it’s an outline plan we have had in framework for many years.”
A council report also recommended referring the application to the Secretary of State, following requests from members of the public.
The pitch was disused for more 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.
The council’s ambition is to provide at least 300 new build council homes per year. In West Leeds the council will build 12 dwellings at overgrown land at Heights Lane in Armley.
Leeds City Council’s plans can be read in full here.