Council bosses in Leeds have launched a major review of their 70,000 new homes target by 2028 - after newly published figures revealed the expected population boom on which it was based will not be as big as first estimated.
The u-turn comes just weeks after Leeds council rubber-stamped a development masterplan laying out where in the city all the planned new houses would be located.
The 70,000 figure, an estimate of how many new homes the city needs to build by 2028 to meet demand, was adopted by the council as part of its ‘Core Strategy’ after it was approved by a Government inspector.
Opponents had claimed the numbers were based on outdated population growth estimates and should be revised.
Now, after new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the number of households in Leeds is projected to rise by 44,500 by 2028 - less than expected - the council is going back to the drawing board to re-examine its own housing numbers.
However bosses are sticking by their overall planning vision. They insist the 44,500 ONS figure and the council’s net figure of 70,000 new homes are based on “significantly different criteria, so a direct comparison would be inaccurate”.
Critics say the authority is now “on the back foot” - and their earlier concerns have been proven to have been justified,
Leeds City Council’s executive member for planning, councillor Peter Gruen, said: “We have always said we will follow the evidence and act if action needs to be taken, so we are now looking fully at these latest figures and evaluating the implications of what they mean.”
He stressed it was important to consider the population figures “in their full context”.
“The 44,500 figure is based on a very different criteria. It is very much a minimum base to start from, and with the continuing growth of the Leeds economy, the real housing need figure up to 2028 will be considerably higher,” he said.
“Since we received these figures we knew they would be likely to generate considerable interest in relation to our own Core Strategy housing projections. “That is why it is important people consider them in their full context.
“Our Core Strategy remains in place and we continue to work on preparing our draft Site Allocations Plan for new housing around the city, and we do have a number of sites around the city which have widespread support which can be brought forward for early approval.”
However he also acknowledged: “Following our thorough evaluation of the ONS figures, we are fully prepared to consider all options available to us if any alterations are considered appropriate and necessary.”
Coun Andrew Carter, leader of the opposition Tory group, said opponents and campaigners had issued “repeated warnings, for well over two years” that the 70,000 new homes target was “far too high”.
“These latest ONS figures show that our view is fully justified and that a review of the 70,000 figure should start now,” he said.
“There must be no ifs and no buts, this is clear evidence that the administration is planning to build far too many homes and put at risk areas of greenbelt and green field land which simply is not warranted.
“We have repeatedly said that the 70,000 housing number is based on out of date figures from 2008 and if the council sticks to it they would be jeopardising greenbelt locations throughout the city.
“These new figures are clear evidence that there needs to be a review now.”
He said the council’s administration was “now clearly on the back foot” and urged a quick review.
“It will be far too late once they have finally allocated sites for housebuilding,” he said,
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government were compiled from 2012 data.
The council insists that as the government advises in its own national planning guidance, the figures are just the “base starting point” for projections of housing need, and do not take into account a wide range of factors including demand generated by future economic growth and job creation.
The authority stresses that the ongoing strength of the Leeds economy, further enhanced by its role at the heart of the Leeds City Region, means the city is expected to generate 56,000 new jobs by 2031, attracting a considerable number of new residents.
It also points out that the latest ONS figures are based on the assumption that demographics and trends from 2007-12 will be repeated up to 2028, even though this was a period of recession when housebuilding slowed considerably.
It is hoped that due to the economic recovery and expected continued growth in Leeds, the housing industry will “operate at a significantly higher level of productivity”.
Leeds City Council unveiled the locations of the tens of thousands of homes it was planning to build by 2028 as it bids to meet growing demand and tackle the city’s housing shortage.
All areas of Leeds would be targeted for new developments, with at least three per cent of the total new homes to be built in each of 11 areas, and on 763 individual sites.
Thirty-four per cent of the total new builds would be in inner city areas and the city centre. Areas like Armley, Beeston, Belle Isle, Gipton, Harehills, Hyde Park, Hunslet and Seacroft would all get major housing boosts.
More than six in every 10 of the new homes were earmarked for brownfield land, previously developed sites which may have lain dormant for years.
Despite the many reassurances, one leading campaigner said today’s revelations simply illustrate how accurate he and other concerned communities were - and he urged caution in the future.
KEY QUESTIONS & ANSWERS - AS SUPPLIED BY LEEDS CITY COUNCIL
Q: When was the council made aware of the latest ONS figures?
A: The figures from 2012 were released by the Government on February 27, 2015, six months later than expected. The figures are released every two years, so the next set will be based on information up to 2014 and will be expected to be issued in 2016.
Q: Why are they so much lower than the council’s own figures?
A: As explained above, the two sets of figures have been produced using very different criteria so should not be directly compared. The ONS figures are minimum need figures based on a period when the national economy was in recession and the construction industry suffered a major downturn as a result. The council’s government-approved assessment takes into account a range of other key factors, including the expected increase in housing demand due to sustained economic growth in Leeds.
Q: Do these new numbers mean the Core Strategy is wrong and needs to be reviewed?
A: No, the Core Strategy was approved by the government after lengthy consultation and public examination periods. The council committed to reviewing the strategy within the first three years to ensure it remains accurate and appropriate for the needs of the city.
Q: What does this mean for the draft Site Allocations Plan on new housing locations?
A: Work continues on preparing the plan for public consultation later in the year, but should it need to be altered to take into account any changes deemed appropriate following analysis of the latest figures the council has the ability to do so.
Q: Does this mean if less houses are needed less green belt areas will need to be built on?
A: Only after a full analysis of the implications of the ONS figures will any recommendation on changes to potential housing locations be announced by the council.
Q: What happens next?
A: The council is currently undertaking a full evaluation of the ONS figures, and will communicate any changes recommended to be made as a result at the appropriate time.