The planning inquiry into the proposed development by Aspiring Communities of the Ice Pak site on Barkly Road, Beeston started today (Tuesday 28 March 2017) at Leeds Civic Hall.
During the day the government appointed Planning Inspector, Chris Preston, heard from local residents and organisations and witnesses for Leeds City Council. The hearing has been scheduled to last four days, although it may conclude earlier.
Looking at the large piles of papers, he explained that he had read everything that had been submitted and would take it all into account, whether or not the person was present to speak in person.
In their opening statements the barristers acting for Aspiring Communities and Leeds City Council set out the key points of their cases.
Ian Ponter acting for Aspiring Communities stated that the scheme “comprises a community and sports facility that will be available to the community for its use.” He said this would be guaranteed through a community use agreement. He went on to challenge the council’s assertion that the building will be used by 1,123 people saying this was based on a fire safety limit, rather than Aspiring Communities own maximum figure of a 308. Taking the lower number would address the Council’s concerns over traffic and parking. Aspiring Communities wished to address the issues by accepting conditions on the planning permission, but Leeds City Council were being unreasonable in refusing to set such conditions.
Luke Wilcox acted for Leeds City Council and summed up the dispute between the LPA (Leeds City) Council and the Appellant (Aspiring Communities) thus:
“The dispute … turns, in essence, on the number of people who might use the site. The Appellants says no more than 250 persons will use the site, and contends that an occupancy condition can be imposed to limit the use of the site to that number. The LPA says that, in reality, the site has the potential to be used by far more people than that. The LPA’s case is that, when the Appellant’s scheme is assessed against the actual capacity of the site, and against the actual level of demand, the Proposal is unacceptable in planning terms. Further, the maximum occupancy level proposed by the Appellants cannot lawfully be conditioned.”
Speaking as headteacher of St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School, Lisa Leonard spoke in opposition to the application. She particularly cited traffic concerns, stating that Barkly Road was already recognised as an accident hotspot by Leeds City Council. She was concerned that the centre’s peak traffic (Friday prayers) would coincide with the school’s peak, as they held a celebration event every Friday afternoon from 1:45pm. She said the event was regularly attended by up to 350 parents.
Miss Leonard also questioned the need for the centre and said that she would welcome requests to use the school hall for out of school activities, but these had never been requested by any group. Finally she said the governing body had been asked to consider an expansion of the school and in deciding not to expand, the additional traffic that would be generated had been a key consideration.
Ray Stone, a resident of Wooler Avenue spoke about his concerns about noise and the problems he had had with Ice Pak’s operations. He was also worried that the site lay over a quarry and excavation for the car park could disturb its unknown contents.
Christine Thornton, speaking on behalf of Beeston Community Forum, stated that their objections were on the basis of noise, atmospheric pollution, traffic and road safety. She went on to say that whilst the relationship between the Forum and Aspiring Communities had always been cordial, the Forum didn’t think AC had been open and honest. She said they had not involved themselves or help very many events and members of AC had only attended 12 out of 52 Forum meetings.
Talking about an allegation that the centre would actually be the national headquarters for a branch of Islam, she said the Forum expected a full rebuttal, but didn’t get one. The Forum also wanted a condition putting on the development that all necessary finances were in place before building work could start.
Colin Ward spoke in a personal capacity saying there was a lack of trust. Aspiring Communities’ assertion that they wanted to improve community cohesion was taken as an insult by local residents “and the shutters went up.”
Mr Liaqat Hussain spoke in favour of the centre, saying that he had seen the effect that similar projects had achieved in Chapeltown and that we needed something similar in Beeston because “there are too many boys and young men hanging around on street corners.”
Bill Birch, representing Save Our Beeston, spoke later in the day having submitted a late item – results of a noise survey – which had to be accepted by all parties before being admitted.
He talked about the massive overdevelopment of Beeston in recent years, how the area already suffered from poor air quality. He said the noise survey showed that there would an unacceptable increase in noise on Barkly Road at times of peak usage. He finished by saying that Save Our Beeston believed there was “overwhelming circumstantial evidence that the centre would actually be an international Islamic convention centre.”
In questioning Bill Birch accepted that they had not followed the standard methodology for measuring traffic noise, but he said the standard methodology would not give a true picture in this case.
LCC’s first witness was Christopher Dowse a senior Highways Engineer with the council. He said he was concerned about large numbers of cars arriving and leaving the centre over a short space of time on Friday afternoons. This would lead to poor parking, potentially obscuring junctions and blocking pavements. He said a maximum number of 450 people (equating to 194 cars) could be catered for and he would not object if this were the level of usage.
In cross examination Ian Ponter queried why Mr Dowse had written his traffic report based on 1,123 users, rather than the 310 figure supplied by Aspiring Communities in 2014. In reply to a question from the Inspector, Mr Dowse confirmed that if demand was greater than the building was allowed to hold, people would still drive to the centre and the parking issue would remain. But he also clarified that that there was parking capacity within 600m for the higher number of cars and that the local road network could cope with the traffic movements.
In his evidence Principal Planning Officer Ian Cyhanko said:
“The LPA (the Council) has been seeking to establish if there is a local need for a proposal of this size, following the advice of Policy P9 of the Core Strategy, and how the scheme could improve cohesion with the locality. Concerns have been raised by many local residents that the building may not be made available for the use of the wider community and in particular those residents living in the immediate surroundings of the site, and that the development may lead to tensions within the community as a result.”
Cross examination centred on whether conditions could or could not be imposed in this case. Mr Cyhanko stated that a condition on occupancy was unreasonable given the size of the building and said that “the ethos of P9 is about local opposition.”
The hearing continues tomorrow (Wednesday 29 March 2017) when Aspiring Communities will present their case and face cross examination.