Despite the withdrawal of Leeds Rugby’s planning application back in December, the Tetley Field saga drags on, and the threat of housing development next to Meanwood Park remains.
Back on 8 February, Leeds City Council’s Executive Board (following a request from its Development Plans Panel for legal clarification) declined to remove Tetley Field from the draft Site Allocations Plan (SAP). This despite vocal protest from the Leaders of both opposition parties. Very disappointingly, one of our own Councillors representing Meanwood, Cllr Charlwood (a member of the Executive Board), failed to comment in support of Tetley Field, despite around 500 residents of Moortown ward having objected to last year’s planning application.
The Council has justified its decision on the following grounds:
- The risk of delays to the SAP process.
- The need for Leeds to meet its overall housing target.
- The threat of legal challenge from Leeds Rugby.
These “justifications” can be reasonably challenged as follows:
- Of the hundreds of sites put forward in the SAP, Tetley Field is a unique case. From 2013-15 it was consistently assessed by Council officers as providing a Green Belt function, ie unsuitable for housing. This assessment was only changed as a direct consequence of Leeds Rugby’s offer to put the proceeds of any sale of the land with planning permission towards the redevelopment of Headingley Stadium. No other site in the SAP has been re-assessed on the basis of such an offer (indeed, only one other site has been re-assessed at all). Thus the removal of Tetley Field from the SAP would have no impact on the overall soundness of the SAP and the process of its adoption could continue without delay.
- The Tetley Field site is proposed for an allocation of just 30 to 40 properties, out of an overall target for Leeds of 66,000. It is preposterous to suggest that the removal of Tetley Field from the SAP would have any impact on the city’s ability to deliver its housing target.
- The threat of protest and legal challenge from the community is equally real.
More details on these points can be found in this letter from Weetwood Residents Association to Executive Board members, dated 4 February. The key point to remember is that back in May 2015 the Council changed its assessment of the site only as a result of the offer from Leeds Rugby – an overtly transparent attempt at “post- rationalisation”. In fact, the important Green Belt function that Tetley Field currently performs, protecting Meanwood Park and the wider Meanwood Valley Green Corridor, has been massively reiterated by the 1000+ Objections to the subsequent planning application.
While the future of Tetley Field hangs in the balance, an increasingly common question being asked is “what do people really want for Tetley Field in the future?” To answer this question, I have drafted a Vision Statement for Tetley Field, which is based on all the lengthy written Objections made to the planning application (which I, more fool me, took the trouble of reading last year). The clear and consistent message that emerges from the Objections is that people want the Field to remain essentially as it is – an open space for informal recreation, only with fully-legitimate public access (unlike the existing de facto access).
For this reason, my view is that the best way forward for both the Council and Leeds Rugby is for the land to be sold at recreational value to either the Council or a third party organisation dedicated to the public interest (such as Wade’s Charity, which already owns several pieces of land in Leeds for this purpose). The Meanwood Valley Green Corridor as it is now is essentially a series of linked open spaces bequeathed to the city by previous distinguished landowners (eg Beckett, Oates, Kitson-Clark). Adding Tetley Field to this list not only represents the best outcome for the community, but also the remaining opportunity for Leeds City Council and Leeds Rugby to emerge with any credit at all from this sorry tale.