Kirkstall Forge


This 23 hectare (65 acre) site is arguably the largest single mixed development project in Leeds. The Commercial Estates Group acquired the land in 2003 from the US-based engineering group Dana for £8 million. Kirkstall Forge has seen several hundred years of continuous industrial use, and was purchased with full liability for contaminated land.

After considerable public consultation an outline planning application number 24/96/05/OT was submitted in February 2005 for 1,385 new homes, 16,518 sqm (177,800 sq ft) office floorspace, and support facilities including bars, restaurants, small-scale retail, health and fitness, banking, crèche, social and community uses, a riverside hotel, and conversion of the Grade II listed Lower Forge building to provide food and drink facilities. The Plans Panel granted outline permission in April 2006, subject to detailed conditions and a section 106 agreement.

The development will probably include a new railway halt, and is likely to be integrated into the A65 quality bus scheme. The company must now convert their outline consent into series of detailed planning permissions. So far, they have a good track record on public consultation. They have a public website at http://www.kirkstallforge.com.

There is considerable local anger about the section 106 agreement. The council completely excluded the public from these negotiations, and diverted most of the money from local community benefits in Kirkstall towards major civil engineering works at Horsforth roundabout and Apperley Bridge. These locations are scarcely affected by the redevelopment and are a considerable distance from the site. Little or no money will be spent in Kirkstall, where most of the adverse effects will arise. The railway halt will be of greater benefit to the developer than to the public. People question whether it is appropriate for a section 106 scheme, since it requires a massive subsidy from public funds.

Local resident Stephen Rennie writes:

Kirkstall Forge Developments – the case for a share of the s106 monies for Hawksworth Wood Estate

Back in the early 1920s, it was decided that the workforce at Kirkstall Forge needed housing convenient to the site and located in an environment that promoted health and healthy living. The bright breezy slopes facing West and South from Hawksworth Woods presented just such an opportunity. Work on a ‘Sunshine’ estate commenced in 1925.

The estate was fairly self-contained. It had a major local employer – the Kirkstall Forge, a good shopping parade by the standards of those days at the intersection of Broadway and Vesper Road and additional shops on Lea Farm Road. Primary and Secondary schools were built to serve the relatively young population, a church was provided on Hawkswood Crescent and a large grass open area was left for play and recreation along Cragside Walk.

Feeling their job was done, Leeds City Council essentially then ignored the estate for sixty years.

For much of that time, all was well. Hawksworth Wood had a hardy population well able to stand the blustery West winds and occasional bitter Easterlies. There was a good range of employment in the Kirkstall Valley at the Kirkstall Forge and at various other heavy industries. These industries prospered in the years before, during and for some time after the second world war. The generally good standards of design, methods and materials used in building the houses paid off. They were warm, comfortable and didn’t leak much.

Gradually though, things went downhill. The industries other than the Forge were nationalised, rationalised then privatised out of local existence. The demand for the kind of heavy axles made at the Forge was met by cheaper overseas competitors. The long term lack of planned maintenance began to tell on the housing stock and many families began to despair. Key shops closed, especially food shops that could not compete with the new supermarkets. Children’s performance at school suffered and the school (by this stage just a primary), slid down the new league tables until it was third from bottom in the city. Drug use by young people grew dramatically, crime rates soared and general levels of health dropped.

Local people did not stand idly by and watch these things take place. Despite very low incomes locally, they organised effectively to provide services they needed. The YMCA provided a good youth service including support for young people having severe problems. The community association worked hard at all levels to support local initiatives including HOPS, probably the best support service for elderly people in Leeds.

Hawksworth Wood had benefited scarcely at all from major government programmes designed to alleviate the effects of poverty and urban stress. The estate had always been too small, not quite desperate enough, not quite close enough to the city centre, not quite poor enough or ill enough to qualify for Urban Programme or Inner Area Partnership resources or for a Sure Start project.

The Single Regeneration Budget was supposed to end all that. Pockets of deprivation like Hawksworth Wood were supposed to be particularly targeted to support heir development and spending of the government money was supposed to be with the full agreement of local people. Various groups on the estate put forward ideas for change and for new services, among them the community association.

In the end only a very small fraction of the money was made available for local groups. The community association got a contribution towards a member of staff for three years, but the bulk of the money went on projects of the city council’s choosing, health surveys, employment surveys, economic regeneration surveys, weird and wonderful projects run from Newcastle and road works amongst them.

Despite these setbacks, local people persevered. The school was reorganised as one form of entry instead of one and a half. The savings from that were combined with the running costs of the nursery class and used to support the creation of a Children’s Centre, a service every bit as good as a Sure Start centre. Police Community Support Officers gave local people the backing they needed to report crime, so crime levels dropped dramatically. HOPS went from strength to strength supporting elderly people. A large chunk of money from central government enabled the new housing management organisation to do good planned work to bring houses up to a liveable standard.

Meanwhile the Forge finally closed. It had gone from crisis to crisis for some years, shedding its workforce until few remained and it was no longer a major employer in relation to the estate. It was bought by a property developer, Corporate Estates, and that brings us to today’s question.

When a multi-million pound development takes place, there is provision under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act, for local people collectively to gain some benefit from the development. This can be for roads to cope with the new traffic, for schools to cope with the influx of new families, for new open spaces, for tree planting, for new services generally to benefit communities affected by the changes the development brings. £7.3 million is available in association with the building of new houses, flats, offices and businesses on the Kirkstall Forge site.

The proposals to date are:

  1. build a railway station on the Forge site (£4 million)

  2. improve the Horsforth roundabout (£1 to 3 million)

  3. create new footpaths in the valley (£1 million, maybe more)

The second of these proposals is highly contentious. Hawksworth Wood Community Association has alternatives, including a children’s play centre in the grounds of the school and a skate board park. The idea that money generated from the development of the Kirkstall Forge should be spent on the (admittedly severe) traffic problems of Horsforth is not seen as being at all fair.

The planners and engineers defend their stance by the severity of the problems at the Horsforth roundabout. They admit that the Kirkstall Forge development will cause more problems at Bridge Road in Kirkstall from traffic into town from the site than at Horsforth from people coming in to work on the site. They admit that Kirkstall will not benefit from section 106 monies from the Arla Foods site, as that will all be spent on traffic matters in central Leeds. They admit that Kirkstall received no money from the section 106 agreement for the High Royds development, despite the additional traffic that brings down Abbey Road. They admit that this is the only development likely to generate section 106 money that Hawksworth Wood qualifies for in your lifetime or in mine. All they can say, over and over is that they need the money at Horsforth.

This is typical of the treatment of the Hawksworth Wood Estate by Leeds City Council. It is always ‘jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today’ as it says in Alice Through the Looking Glass. Somehow it is never Hawksworth Wood’s turn.

But it can be. We can dig our heels in. We can demand a just level of provision for the Hawksworth Wood Estate on the back of this development. We can negotiate for fairness, or we can oppose the development in every detail.

So far, the developers have outline permission for houses, flats, a hotel, offices and other commercial buildings. They must submit the details of all of those for consideration. We can object to each and every proposal. We can object to the loss of each and every tree to new roads. We can object to the loss of views across the valley and the appearance of each and every building that intrudes into sightlines. We can wear them down until they give the estate the services it deserves.

Stephen Rennie

Chair, HWCA

Last updated 30 November 2008 at 00:30. Back to the top

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Promoted by John Illingworth, 37 Kirkwood Way, Leeds LS16 7EU