In a crucial test of Government policy to move away from transporting freight by road and towards greater use of the nation’s rail and canal networks, Leeds City Council's attempts to protect the city's historic canal-side have met with a major stumbling block at the High Court.
The Council was sent back to the drawing board when the Court declared unlawful planning policies which were designed to maintain two plots of land fronting the Aire and Calder canal for the use of trains and barges transporting minerals in bulk. However, the ruling boosted developers’ hopes that the land will be allocated for housing and employment-generating projects.
At the heart of the case stood two controversial policies within the Council's Natural Resources and Waste Local Plan which it had adopted following a public inquiry before a planning inspector. By those policies, which were set to govern the use of the two sites until 2028, the Council had sought to protect them as potential centres for the transport of canal and rail freight.
The Aire and Calder is one of the few canals capable of carrying large freight barges and Leeds argued that its policies were in line with Government objectives to switch from road to rail and canal transport. In a city as large and complex as Leeds, it was submitted that it was essential to safeguard existing, planned and potential wharves and railheads suitable for handling bulk freight. The Council also pointed out that it had no wish to 'indefinitely sterilise' the two sites and that, in line with the inspector's recommendations, it had agreed to review the position in five years' time.
However, in overturning the relevant policies, the Court ruled that they conflicted with national planning guidance which sought to avoid the long-term safeguarding of rail and canal transport sites where there was no realistic prospect of them being used for a protected purpose. The inspector had recognised that there was little direct evidence to show that the movement of minerals and other bulky materials to and from Leeds by canal would be economically viable and the Council's policies were not saved by its commitment to carry out a five-year review.