Hilary Benn MP: Where should new houses be built?

It’s a pretty straightforward question, but the answer is sometimes anything but.

Hilary_Benn copyLeeds City Council has just completed its consultation to identify sites around the city but, perhaps understandably, not everyone is happy. And yet, if we don’t provide homes for our children and grandchildren, neighbours and friends and work colleagues then we are going to have a big problem in the future. House prices will be even more unaffordable and rents higher for those who can’t or don’t want to buy.

What do I think? I think we should put as many homes as possible on previously developed – ie ‘brownfield’ – land. We should give communities greater powers to ensure that once they have identified housing sites, the homes that are needed get built in the places they want and go to the people who need them. We need more affordable homes for the large number of people on the council waiting list. And we need to get small and medium-size builders back building homes by assisting them with access to land and finance.

And then there is a specific question for South Leeds. What kind of development do we want to see happen locally? The area around the former Carlsberg Tetley site just south of the river is a really good case in point.
For the moment the owners have decided to turn parts of it into a car park, but we really ought to have much more vision for the future of this important part of the city.

If you look at the residential development that has taken place in the city centre over the last 20 years, almost all of it has been one and two-bedroom flats. And yet the greatest need in Leeds is for three and four-bedroom family homes. Why should people who like living near the city centre have to move out because there’s nothing suitable in the neighbourhood for their growing families?

Photo: Adam Ogilvie
New housing in Holbeck. Photo: Adam Ogilvie

I, for one, would like to see three and four-bedroom family homes built in this area, including genuinely affordable homes for rent, part-ownership and for sale. I also support proposals for a new park; there is not enough green space in the centre of Leeds and not enough trees and here is a chance to do something about this. And we also need jobs and new businesses. A number of exciting developments are already taking place in the area, with the establishment of The Tetley arts centre, the Printworks Campus for Leeds City College and the new building for Leeds College of Building to name but three.

Deciding the future of this important part of Leeds should not just be left to developers. Instead, we ought to have a partnership with the local community and the council, and that’s where neighbourhood planning comes in. It’s really great that in two areas of South Leeds – Holbeck and Beeston – local community organisations are working on developing their own neighbourhood plan. I would love to see more communities doing the same, because for me this is all about getting stuck in and helping to shape the future development of the place in which we live and work and call home.

And a theatrical postscript……

I recently got the chance to visit the Slung Low Theatre Company based in five railway arches in Holbeck. They describe themselves as making “adventures for audiences outside of conventional theatre spaces… shows that re-examine how audiences go and see a piece of theatre.” If what people tell me about their performance of Moby Dick last year at New Dock is anything to go by, they certainly live up to their aims. Check out their website to discover more: www.slunglow.org