North faces homes hike

A massive rise in planned housing numbers in Yorkshire and Humberside has stirred strong feelings in local authorities, countryside groups and development circles, reports Vicki Shiel.

Bradford: Planners fear for green belt
Bradford: Planners fear for green belt

From next year, the Yorkshire and Humber region may have to find space for 22,140 new homes annually until 2026. The figure of almost 500,000 more homes in less than 20 years is 50 per cent higher than the rate proposed by regional planners.

The target was announced when the government published proposed changes to the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly's draft regional spatial strategy (RSS) last month (Planning, 5 October, p3). It is part of a growing reliance on the north to meet prime minister Gordon Brown's ambitious house building targets.

Housing and planning minister Yvette Cooper recently noted that the gap between supply and demand is greater in the Yorkshire and Humber region than in the South East (Planning, 28 September, p3). The government has also announced an extension of the growth points scheme as well as inviting expressions of interest for eco-towns in the north of England.

The draft RSS proposed 15,160 homes a year between 2004 and 2011, with later increases of up to 19,120. An independent examination panel recommended the target of 22,140 in May. But it suggested the timescale should run from 2011 to 2021, giving local planning authorities more time to ensure land supply.

Yorkshire Forward chief economist Simon Foy welcomes the announcement. The original housing numbers were not reflective of the demand prompted by the region's continued economic growth forecast, he claims. But the targets are likely to be a problem for some councils.

Almost half of the homes have been allocated to West Yorkshire. Assembly planning board chairman Steve Galloway, who also leads York City Council, points out that Leeds and Bradford are already having trouble meeting the lower targets that were set out in the draft RSS.

Bradford City Council group planning manager Andrew Marshall explains that the authority is concerned about the infrastructure required to support development, the implementation timescale and potential green belt impacts. Leeds City Council head of planning and economic policy David Feeney says it is still considering the implications.

Some are more optimistic about the targets. "I would be surprised if Leeds does not make the target," Drivers Jonas associate partner Euan Kellie comments. "There is a lot of opportunity for development. The message from our clients is that it is a strong place to invest."

The type of housing that emerges will be another point for councils to consider in light of a recent report by DTZ on the Leeds city centre residential market. This concludes that two and three-bedroom detached properties suitable for families are in the greatest demand, yet 74 per cent of all new-build properties are flats. "While we welcome the increased housing numbers, we feel that it is important for local authorities to make sure that the right housing mix is provided," says Foy.

The announcement is not all bad news for councils in the region. Hull City Council economy, regeneration and strategic planning councillor Andy Sloan remarks that the council is delighted with the new targets. "We have been constrained until now because we are a housing market renewal area and we were handicapped from a planning perspective," he explains.

The government admits that such huge levels of house building may require a review of the green belt in West Yorkshire. "This is likely to be unpopular but it reinforces the view held in the professional community that green belt land can be the most sustainable location to accommodate growth," says Drivers Jonas associate Ros Eastman.

However, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) warns that the long-term implications for the green belt and urban regeneration in the region could be catastrophic. "The government says it wants brownfield sites used first and has reaffirmed support for the green belt," says CPRE Yorkshire and Humber policy officer Gill Stride. "If the hike in housing numbers is pushed through these objectives will be undermined, giving way to a wave of urban sprawl and long-distance commuting."

The assembly must consider the implications of the proposed changes during the 12-week consultation period. Council leaders hope the government will be flexible. "Some of the figures are over-ambitious," Galloway concludes.

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