Decision Deferred

Case heard

Leeds City Council (LCC) Plans Panel met on the 30th May 2019 to discuss and decide the fate of our community and our homes. To begin the day, members of Plans Panel took a tour of the estate, which is usual practice for planning decisions to help them put an application into context. Physical context, mind you – none of that wishy washy social stuff. As per the laws of planning, Council members are not permitted to interact with residents on a walk around (!), so all our neighbours could do that morning was stand in their windows or gardens and remind Panel members of their human connection to the concrete under assessment. Doing this and not looking creepy is a difficult feat, but we had to remind LCC that this campaign is about homes *and* people, not just houses.

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Getting ready for the Plans Panel visit

Then, at 13:30, back at Leeds Civic Hall, Plans Panel members sat and listened to points put forward by Pemberstone on the one side, and neighbours, councillors, the National Union of Miners and other supporters on the other. For detailed coverage of particular arguments, see the comprehensive coverage of the session in the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Of particular note was the moment the room burst into scoffs and laughter, as Pemberstone’s representative declared that our houses are under a programme of continuous maintenance, and that they spend “tens of thousands every year maintaining the properties”.  Hmmm. Let’s see what those figures translate to:

(Mis)calculations

A UK Government report on private registered providers of social housing recorded that, in 2017, private providers were spending a median of £3,298 per housing unit that year on management, major repairs and maintenance. Taking that as a benchmark figure, this would mean Pemberstone, across 70 houses, should spend £230,860 annually on keeping the entire estate up to decent standard (and the costs are even higher for older housing stock). Even a generous reading of “tens of thousands” doesn’t add up to £230,860.

What did they mean, then? Perhaps they meant *planned* maintenance expenditure only, and not emergency repairs. Well, the average for that, according to the same report, is £1000 per household per year, which would mean Pemberstone should spend £70,000 annually in our estate to keep all of the houses up to a decent living standard. What *planned* repairs have we seen for this amount? Virtually nothing proactive, which has resulted in our homes falling into major disrepair. In recent years we’ve seen:

  • One neighbour waiting more than 18 months (when she sadly passed away) for a rotten window replacement;
  • Another neighbour waiting since September 2016 to have broken light fittings repaired;
  • A neighbour waiting over two years to replace her damaged floors;
  • Several neighbours waiting weeks and months for urgent replacements of showers, doors and other essential infrastructure. The list continues.

The Council should be asking for records of maintenance and major works expenditure in the estate over the last decade to put into context Pemberstone’s assertions that these houses have received all due care and investment to date.

In the meantime, back to the update on LCC Plans Panel meeting…

Can kicked

After hours of deliberating, the Panel didn’t get beyond community issues to talk about planning. It was highlighted that many members of the community are elderly or have disabilities, which are “protected characteristics”. Many declared the development plans to be a situation of social cleansing that threatens to make vulnerable people homeless. Councillor Caroline Gruen admitted: “This is the most difficult decision the panel have had to make in its history.”

And so make it they didn’t.

A motion was passed to defer the decision. Councillors agreed that they need to receive more information on issues such as the design and layout of the estate, the impact of the development on the community, and the desirability of the housing mix. They also agreed of the need to know more about housing need for the local community.

While we are all grateful that the decision wasn’t an approval for the plans, surely the above information should have been comprehensively sought as soon as the application went in?

We don’t know exactly what will come next, but this deferral has given us additional breathing room and more time to snowball the campaign. It’s is a small win of sorts, so watch this space.

A huge thank you to all those that turned up on the day to support us in the LCC Plans Panel meeting and cover our story. Particularly: Chris Kitchen of the NUM, Stewart Golton of the Lib Dems, Karen and Stuart Bruce of Labour, local news stations, newspapers, other media and all the lovely folks who gave up their afternoon. The fight continues!

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