Planning News - June
Last month we tried our first on-line developer presentation and, apart from some technical issues, this seemed to go well. We were shown plans for the former Arla Dairies site on Kirkstall Road (next to the Nissan garage halfway between the viaduct and the city centre) where it is proposed to build some 630 apartments to rent (mainly 1- or 2-bedrooms) in six blocks. Mainly between 6 and 12 floors high, with central 16-storey tower, the aim is to offer good views to the river where a new wide walkway will be laid out - a large southwest-facing open area will provide a location for community and commercial amenities. While supportive of the general concept and aspirations, we had a number of concerns: very few of the units have balconies (an issue in a Covid-19 world); car parking provision is very high for such a sustainable location; due to flood prevention constraints, the open space could be very bland and it will need some vertical features (sculpture, planting, etc); the open space needs to be animated if it is to be used (outdoor exercise machines, play features, etc). As an outline planning application, little detail was provided with regard to architectural treatment but we would hope that this would be an improvement on the blocks now being built in Leeds.
For once, letters of support or general comment outnumbered objections but we still felt it appropriate to object to four of the applications reviewed:
- housing at Wood Lane, Rothwell: an estate of some 82 dwellings is ‘highway-dominated’ and uses wooded land outside the statutory housing allocation to provide a flood attenuation pond - this should be inside the estate where it would form part of an accessible public open space structure
- Victoria Riverside, Hunslet: we joined hundreds of local residents in objecting to plans to convert space allocated for a local convenience store to apartments - while the developer says there is no interest from operators, the area is still largely undeveloped and demand should increase as more residents move in
- Pumphouse, Otley Road, Headingley: we felt the Yorkshire Water proposal to replace an existing stone-built structure with a GRP-coated cabin was not acceptable in this clearly visible site alongside a conservation area
- 97 Kirkgate: consent has previously been given for the restoration of this historic shop but the applicant now wishes to rebuild it completely and construct a large rear extension - we felt there was not enough justification for the proposed demolition.
We were able to support the following applications:
- Brotherton House, Westgate: the scheme was amended following our comments and the proposed extension is now far more respectful to the existing building
- Arthington House, off Burley Road: this conversion of offices to flats will provide traditional accommodation in an area dominated by students
- Mistress Lane, Armley: this imaginative housing scheme commissioned by a local community group will provide 34 flats & houses on a difficult barren grassland site
- Thackray Medical Museum: a rebranding of the museum involving new signage
- 56 Wellington Street: minor internal changes within this historic property.
We made neutral comments on three applications: detailed points regarding the proposed station entrance in Bishopgate Street (we feel the whole concept is wrong), an office to residential conversion at 2 The Headrow (we felt the existing window pattern should be retained) and a temporary car park at Thorpe Park (electric vehicle charging should be installed as it could last for 10 years). We decided to make no comment on several other applications including a number of replacement telephone kiosks (effectively advert panels?) around the city centre - although we generally object to additional street clutter, these look better than those there at present.
One issue that has come to the fore recently is the fact that developers can convert offices to apartments with almost no planning controls. We have reviewed two schemes (Rawdon House by the fire station roundabout and Westgate House at the end of The Headrow) which we feel will deliver very poor accommodation - small units, no public or shared space (inside or outdoor), dark access corridors and limited lifts/stairs. However, there is little the Council can do to prevent these going ahead without changes in regulations. And the design of apartment towers will be discussed further next month when we look at proposals for a 46 floor tower in Holbeck with no balconies, one staircase, no views or natural ventilation from corridors, terrible internal layouts, etc - have we not learnt anything from Grenfell and Covid-19?
We have had a response to our objection to the facadism proposed for the Crown Hotel in Crown Point Road but the designer does not really justify his approach so we have maintained our stance.
A few bits of ‘gossip’ were picked up at our meetings and this is a selection of the most interesting:
- a new energy from waste plant is to be constructed at Skelton Grange
- we have had a report on the impact of Covid-19 on the city centre: footfall is only 10% of that beforehand but some footways have been widened to provide more space for social distancing; in one office block, only 25% of businesses are operating from the premises but there is only 5% of past footfall; one large firm has 80% of its staff working from home; universities are modelling a drastic reduction of student numbers, especially those from abroad (this will have an impact over 3 years for an undergraduate course); 70% of tenants in one shopping centre have deferred rents and there is no car park income
- a telephone conference with a councillor and officers gave us an understanding of some of the authority’s issues with regard to planning in a Covid-19 world and updated us on key initiatives - these include plans for Temple Works, consultation on the Our Spaces Strategy (see LCC website), City Square design competition and delay of the Clean Air Zone plans (many cameras installed).
Work has started on the replacement of the Regent Street flyover but we have suggested that this is an opportunity to review traffic routes in the area to divert vehicles away from St Peter’s Street - our suggestions can be seen here. The website also features a document outlining a different approach to enhancing the frontage of Leeds City Station and our submission to a National Infrastructure Commission call for evidence as to the way HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail could best enhance connectivity across the Midland and the North. Click here to see the document relating to New Station Street. And here for the document relating to City Station frontage. There are more transport issues in the air so the Trust is reforming its Transport sub-group - if you are interested in joining (or rejoining) this, please email the office.
As part of my exercise regime in mid-May, I cycled into the city centre to see what had changed in the 8 weeks since my last visit - quite a lot is the answer. As well as the temporary pavement widenings mentioned above, works have proceeded along The Headrow and the new road alignment, tree pits, bus stops, etc can be seen in many areas. Infirmary Street bus interchange has gone and part of City Square is being dug up. New apartment structures are rising from the ground on Quarry Hill and those around the Merrion Centre are ever taller. More of the First White Cloth Hall is being reconstructed and the Majestic is nearing external completion. Best of all, 20 mph signs have gone up all over the city centre.
Time to pack up now and start thinking about our meeting next week. This will feature a presentation on revised plans for Mount St Mary’s Church, as well as a whole raft of new planning applications.
Planning Committee Chair