The county council’s planning system continues to come in for criticism after a decision to approve a controversial housing scheme in Amble.
As previously reported by the Gazette, an outline bid for six homes and detached garages on land north of Gloster Hill was approved by a majority of the members of Northumberland County Council’s planning and performance committee last month, despite concerns about the site’s location on a hillside next to an area prone to flooding.
On the stability issue, planning officers explained that the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) provides guidance that it is the responsibility of the developer to cope with that.
In terms of flooding, it is officer opinion that the site can accommodate six dwellings in the area that is not in the medium-risk zone. The road would be, but that is not as ‘vulnerable’, while an escape route would be provided at the rear.
The approval of the scheme has already come in for criticism, but this week, Gloster Hill resident Ann Burke hit out, saying: “My problem is the farce of planning law and the totally political decisions taken by planning committees.”
She added: “I read with interest in last week’s Gazette about the performance of the planning authority in Northumberland. My observation is that we have very inexperienced officers, planning decisions being made on political grounds and authorities passing the problem from one to the next so that the decision is not their problem.
“Come on director of planning and economy, I agree your committees need to be sorted out, let us stop the north/south political divide, and let us stop statistics and performance overriding common sense, surely you have a duty to the residents of Northumberland that they are safe in their homes?”
Jeff Watson, councillor for Amble West with Warkworth, spoke against the scheme and later criticised the decision. Now, he has written to the leader of the county council to voice his concerns.
He said: “I understand why the council considered the planning process needed overhauling and has introduced a new system to reduce the time it took in processing applications, but if councillors always take the advice of planning officers and use no personal judgement for fear of financial implications then one has to ask, what is the point of the hearings in the first place?”
A council spokeswoman said: “Planning operates within a legal framework and all decisions must be robust. Decisions must also enable appropriate growth and development in the county. Over the last year, we have successfully reviewed the planning service which has streamlined and improved the decision-making process and turned around the time taken to determine applications.
“The service is properly funded and site visits are arranged where the committee needs to gain further information on a specific issue or to assist them in gaining a better understanding of the proposal. Appeals against planning decisions can be costly to the council and that is why it is important to ensure that decisions are taken properly.
“Planning committees are politically balanced and include members from across Northumberland. Committee members receive training on planning law and planning policy and make decisions in a politically-neutral manner.”