‘End this madness’ – housing numbers ‘are far too high’

Coun Robert Arckless, ward member for Amble, Coun Allan Hepple, Northumberland County Council's policy board member for housing, and David Leightly, site manager for Galliford Try Partnerships North, at the Dandsfield Square development of affordable homes in Amble, which is nearing completion.
Coun Robert Arckless, ward member for Amble, Coun Allan Hepple, Northumberland County Council's policy board member for housing, and David Leightly, site manager for Galliford Try Partnerships North, at the Dandsfield Square development of affordable homes in Amble, which is nearing completion.

A former borough council boss has raised serious concerns about Northumberland’s core strategy, claiming the ‘approach of employment-led development is fundamentally flawed’.

Maurice Cole, the chief executive of Castle Morpeth Borough Council for 22 years, believes the mistakes made during the creation of the Northumberland County Council Structure Plan in the late 1970s could be repeated again.

In a lengthy and detailed letter to the county council’s director of planning, Mr Cole said: “I consider that its (the authority’s) approach to employment-led development is fundamentally flawed.

“There is no current evidence to show that it can succeed. Indeed, the lessons of history prove that it has consistently failed since 1976.

“The documents admit that the only reason that the population of Northumberland has increased progressively over the last 40 years is because houses have been built and these have been occupied mainly by commuters to Tyneside and by retired people who have moved from elsewhere in the country, in other words, by inward migration.

“It is ridiculous to believe that thousands of new houses are needed to attract to Northumberland the kind of people who will work at home facilitated by technological advances. The council cannot control who will move 
into new executive housing or what their lifestyle will be.”

Mr Cole added: “There is no guarantee that the new housing would attract a single business or would create any skilled workforce.”

He claims that none of the increases in population have been attributable to the net creation of employment, ‘but have been fuelled solely by house building’.

However, it is worth pointing out that the current administration at the county council did unveil an economic plan alongside the most recent draft of the core strategy – aiming for 10,000 new jobs to be created by 2031.

Coun Allan Hepple, policy board member responsible for housing, planning and regeneration at the council, said: “The strategy is unashamedly about growth because we believe that is the right thing for Northumberland. It aims to support key employment sectors and provide required skills training as well as considering critical connectivity issues such as transport but also through superfast broadband.”

Mr Cole states that all that is actually needed in the rural areas, such as Coquetdale, is ‘a number of affordable houses, preferably to rent, so that vital workers such as carers, gardeners and other similar useful members of the society can always be properly accommodated’, and not ‘on the back of large-scale, unneeded executive housing’.

Again, the county council’s Labour administration is aware of the need for affordable housing and there are ongoing developments in Amble, Embleton and Shilbottle.

Mr Cole also raises concerns about the housing numbers outside the main population areas in the latest draft, despite a claim that development would focus on the population centres.

He points out that from the original figures, the housing numbers for Berwick, Seahouses, Rothbury and Wooler have dropped, there have been modest rises for Alnwick and Belford, but a 42 per cent rise from 580 to 1,100 for the rest of the north area.

Following the launch of the newest version of the core strategy in November last year, Coun Hepple said: “We have looked very closely at all feedback provided on the previous version of the core strategy and taken this into account.

“We have also carried out a considerable amount of additional work, to make sure that proposals are fully justified, and also meet national planning guidelines.

“The policies we are proposing are aimed at economic growth for Northumberland and are founded on supporting local jobs and connected communities. This plan will work hand in hand with the emerging economic strategy for the county.

“In order to encourage people to live and work here we have to boost housing supply and extend choice in the housing market, including providing more affordable housing.”

But Mr Cole is adamant in his view – “It is time to limit new house building significantly and to end current madness.”