Latest planning news
Leeds city centre is slowly coming back to life. Videos of queues outside Primark show that a general obsession with shopping might not go away completely but I can’t imagine returning soon unless I need something vital not available online. What will be the impact of Covid-19 on the retail quarter? And will the foreign students come to fill all those new studios leaping up around the Arena? Will there be ever more applications to convert offices to apartments if more people work from home? Should every apartment have a balcony so that residents can get some fresh air should such a pandemic arise in the future? All these matters and many others were discussed at meetings of the Leeds Civic Trust Planning Committee, and in the various webinars organised by the Trust. But we also had our normal mix of planning applications to review, consultation documents to respond to and development ‘chatter’ to consider in our virtual meetings.
We had one presentation in the month. This related to revised plans for Mount St Mary’s Church, the disused building which dominates the skyline at Richmond Hill, just to the east of the city centre. Built 1853-67 to serve an increasing population of Irish immigrants, the church is listed but closed in 1989 – it was sold to a housing trust for redevelopment but this did not proceed. More recently, the site was acquired by Rushbond and consent was obtained to demolish the nave and build a block of apartments preserving the form of the structure, along with a further new block on the site of the presbytery – the chancel of the church would be preserved. This consent has now lapsed and Rushbond has taken the opportunity to review the scheme and presented initial proposals to us in a Zoom call. The principle of the project is retained but the architectural detailing has changed – some of this we liked but we felt other amendments were less successful. Our overall view was that this should be an opportunity to truly re-evaluate the scheme while reluctantly accepting the demolition of the bulk of the church to see its replacement by apartments. Should the presbytery be retained for conversion and houses built in the grounds rather than apartments? Could there be an appropriate use for the chancel other than just a space for residents?
This month, a more equal balance between objections to and support for planning applications that we reviewed. Being in a positive mood, I’ve listed the support ones first.
- 47-51 New Briggate – Situated just opposite the Grand Theatre and Nash’s Restaurant, this scheme seeks to convert a disused hotel to apartments this will help revitalise this new Conservation Area.
- New school, off Torre Road, Burmantofts – Leeds needs more secondary school places to accommodate children coming up through primary schools and we supported this scheme for a new Academy – a new SEN school could be built on the site as well.
- Armley Grange – Formerly a LCC school, this listed building has been bought by a trust specialising in the education of children who exhibit challenging behaviour – we welcomed the quality of the documentation submitted and the care of the heritage elements that is proposed.
- Leeds Dock – A plan for a new bar, partially overhanging the dock and constructed from shipping containers. We felt this would bring more life into the area.
We made neutral comments on the following applications:
- Joseph’s Well, Westgate – While welcoming the plans in principle, we restated previous comments on matters of layout and detail that could be easily resolved.
- Commerce House, Wade Lane – We felt that this plan for an 18 storey block of student accommodation was acceptable in this location but that, while the final design solution was adequate, we preferred a previous, more ‘exciting’ elevational treatment suggested by the architect – we also commented on various matters of detail.
- New terminal, Leeds Bradford Airport – This is a ‘challenging’ application in that we agree that the role of the airport needs to be reviewed as a response to the climate emergency but this is principally a matter for national policy (with which this scheme complies). If an airport is to be ‘allowed’ at Leeds Bradford, the existing terminal is very poor and so its replacement by the proposed development would be positive for the region (we also made comments of detail on the building layout and design).
We objected to four ‘traditional’ applications:
- 36 Hyde Terrace, Little Woodhouse – This conversion of flats to student studios would bring more students into an area already suffering from their presence – the application was also poorly presented, had badly arranged units that were too small and provided no communal amenity space.
- Whitehall Riverside car park – An existing temporary consent runs until 2022, with the number of spaces being reduced in the last two years before the site is landscaped – we objected to its further extension as this would be contrary to the Council’s policy to reduce commuter parking in the city centre. In any event, consideration of an extension to the permission is premature and should be considered nearer to the current expiry date.
- 36 Wellington Street – We objected to plans to remove the ground floor shopfront and much of the first floor to create an ‘outdoor’ seating area in front of a bar/restaurant – we felt this would create a gap in the Conservation Area.
- Springwell 2 – Plans for a 46 floor block of apartments in Holbeck have reached the national press, with many adverse comments regarding the detailed design of the building. Our objection highlighted lack of amenity space, impact on adjoining apartments (by same developer), too many units per lobby, provision of just one escape staircase, no natural ventilation/balconies, affordable units located in north-facing areas with limited daylight and potentially adverse impact on views across the city.
- 109 The Headrow – We also objected to plans for another poor-quality office to residential conversion here, although we appreciate that the Council’s hands are tied by legislation giving permitted rights to developers of such buildings. Consent was recently given for a similar scheme at Fairfax House (corner of Wade Lane & Merrion Street) but here the applicant can choose from 3 different approved layouts!
Other points made at our meetings included the following:
- members reported on a variety of online discussions and webinars which have been held in recent weeks.
- A meeting with Leeds Council officers gave us an update on a range of issues – these included Covid-19-adjusted planning application procedures are now in operation, the Council’s website seeking locations for trialling public realm or highway improvements had 20,000 entries from 4,000 people & these will inform an initial action plan and the Trust’s comments on the station enhancement & the Regent Street flyover are being reviewed.
- The WYCA Transport Committee approved further funding for a number of schemes including bus/ walking/cycling improvements to the A61 Leeds to Wakefield, rail/ bus/cycle links between Leeds & the Five Towns, work on a new Armley Gyratory and improvements to bus shelters/stations.
- Work is continuing on the Flood Alleviation Scheme along the River Aire behind Kirkstall Road, and public realm works are starting around the Corn Exchange and along Clay Pit Lane. That’s all for now – I’ll be back again next month to keep you informed about planning issues in Leeds.
Mike Piet (Planning Committee Chair)