WHY ANY OTLEY DEVELOPMENT MUST BE AN EXEMPLAR
Leeds City Council is about to start a new consultation process for the East of Otley site. They have promised to listen to the community and key stakeholders this time. Otley 2030, in collaboration with local people and industry experts, have been developing an alternative plan that respects both nature and people. We believe an exemplar approach is the only viable way forward if development must go ahead…
A VERY SERIOUS SITUATION
We are currently facing three distinct, but interconnected crises:
1) A climate crisis, which threatens the future of all life on this planet and, as the latest IPCC report indicates, is much more advanced than all previous estimates.
2) A nature crisis. Human activities have decimated so much of the world’s biodiversity that we are now facing mass extinction of uncountable numbers of species. And, as our understanding of the natural world increases, we have come to realise this is also a human crisis. Our destruction of nature has devastated populations of the pollinators we rely on to produce our food and increased the risk of pandemics.
3) A social crisis. A decade of austerity has already pushed public services and millions of families to the brink. The latest increase in energy and commodity prices is literally going to kill large numbers of our fellow citizens. This, allied to the fact we live in a relatively undemocratic country by European standards, has given people a real sense of helplessness.
How we solve these problems must be the priority for all of us. Whether we work for the government, community groups, or developers, we have to address all of these crises in our decision making.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN OTLEY?
A development the size and scope of East of Otley presents an amazing opportunity for us to tackle these problems and prove that we can build affordable houses that are fit for the future, whilst also enhancing biodiversity on site, and we can do it in a way that engages the local community and enhances our town.
Through our involvement with East of Otley, we have come to realise that the process of these developments is completely upside-down and backwards. Local authorities should be working with the local community, key stakeholders and industry experts to establish what would be best for the site. This would then produce an outline for the site that potential developers could tender for. Then a company with as deplorable record as Persimmon would not be allowed anywhere near the development.
Instead, we have a desultory public consultation, in which local concerns are fundamentally ignored, followed by a masterplan, that raises the number of houses on site by 200, and, according to local councillors we have spoken to, is pretty much the worst plan of this size they have ever seen.
At an Otley Chamber of Trade meeting we attended last year, the Team Leader from LCC’s Policy & Plans Group listed all of the ways in which this plan was a disaster. Almost £10,000 of public money and thousands of hours of our time was spent pulling apart a plan that was never fit for purpose and should not have seen the light of day.
At every meeting we attend with Leeds City Council staff and elected officials, they are keen to espouse their environmental and social credentials, and, it is true, they are doing some great work, and as their new Local Plan shows, they have ambitious plans that we are keen to support. As soon as the East of Otley development is mentioned, there is a refusal to engage. If this development is to go ahead as planned, then it shows the council clearly isn’t serious about its commitments to people and the planet.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEIZE
What we are asking for is not revolutionary - local authorities, developers, and community groups all around the country are doing things differently:
The City of York Council is developing council properties that are Passivhaus standard
The Phoenix Project in East Sussex hosted a festival to engage the local community
Bedzed produce a hundred net-zero houses in South London
This is why Otley 2030 members are demanding that the masterplan, as it is now, is scrapped and a full and proper public engagement process take place. Otley has an engaged, passionate and educated population who are keen to get involved in this process and the City Council should see that as a positive, not a hurdle.
Some might say that exemplar developments are not realistic or pragmatic, because of policy X, Y, or Z. But, that’s not true - what is not realistic or pragmatic is to carry on with practices that are killing the planet and destroying communities. Policies and plans can be changed, but the damage this development, as was originally proposed, would cause cannot be undone.
We believe that everybody involved in this development needs to use this period of pause and reflection, to ask themselves: What they are doing, why they are doing it, who they are doing it for, and how can we be creative enough to make this the best possible development we can for people and planet?
Over the past year, we have been working with industry experts like DEVX, academics from the University of Leeds, and, most importantly, the local community to produce an exemplar development masterplan. Alex Eve, a trained cartographer has put his hand to developing an alternative masterplan map, which:
Maximum conservation of current biodiversity as a guiding principle, particularly existing trees and hedgerows
Creation of local district energy schemes and incorporation of technology for energy preservation
Relocation of Phase 1, so that it is attached to the current town, encouraging active travel and the development of key amenities, like the school, so they are ready when residents move in
Retention and enhancement of the existing greenhouses for production of locally sourced food and employment
Low lying areas excluded from development
Wildlife corridors, including under the new road, so that the new development doesn’t essentially become cut off from the surrounding habitats
Focus on community facilities and active travel
This is a draft proposal and not yet compatible with all the relevant policies, but we believe it is an infinitely better starting point than what was but forward by the consortium.
THE FUTURE FOR EAST OF OTLEY
If Leeds City Council is serious about doing the right thing on the site and truly wants to engage the local community in the process of designing the new masterplan, then we would very much like to be part of that journey. Otley would appreciate the chance to sit down and talk about how this process can work going forwards, and how some the ideas produced by our exemplar work can be incorporated into the official plan.
WATCH THIS SPACE…