Flooding and stability fears fail to halt plans

The site of the successful outline bid for six new homes at Gloster Hill in Amble.
The site of the successful outline bid for six new homes at Gloster Hill in Amble.

A controversial bid for homes in Amble has been approved despite concerns about the site’s location on a hillside next to an area prone to flooding.

The outline application for six homes and detached garages on land north of Gloster Hill, in Amble, but which falls in Warkworth parish, was given the go-ahead at this afternoon’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s planning and performance committee.

It was supported by a majority of members, but three councillors voted against the scheme.

The main concerns raised by objectors, including neighbouring resident Karen Brunton, were flooding, sewerage and the stability of the hillside.

Coun Jeff Watson, ward member for Amble West with Warkworth, who also spoke against the plans, summed up the site’s unsuitability.

“This will flood, we know it does, we know there will be problems with the drains and it will affect the stability of the bank,” he said.

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, as set out by the Environment Agency.

The road would be, but that is not as ‘vulnerable’ as the homes, while an escape route would be provided at the rear.

Coun Trevor Thorne, one of those who voted against the scheme, said: “I have got great concerns about this application. Here we are, passing an application where the main access road to these houses is in a medium-risk flood area; we are tempting fate.

“My other big problem with this application is the suitability of the slope. I wish we had a little bit more concrete information to base our decision on.”

Coun Heather Cairns agreed with him, saying: “I just think it’s inappropriate to pass a planning application in a flood zone where you have to have an escape road out the back. It’s just crazy.”

The third dissenter, Coun Anthony Murray, said: “I appreciate I haven’t got a valid planning reason (for refusal), but I have got a common-sense reason which I hope people will agree with.

“With the weather the way it is, I think in a year or two’s time, there may be a valid reason.”

However, Coun Anne Dale simply pointed out that the application was supported by the Government’s policies within the NPPF.

Coun Jeff Gobin added: “The easy thing to do would be to turn this application down, but we don’t have legal grounds to do so.” He highlighted the likelihood of appeal because of this, saying: “It would be irresponsible to waste taxpayers’ money.”

After the meeting, Coun Watson said: “I want to express my severe concern about the function of the planning committee.

“It seems that the councillors are always passing officers’ recommendations because of the fear of appeal and therefore I question what is the point of having a planning-committee meeting at all.”

He raised concerns about flooding, sewerage, drainage and stability of the land, but added: “My real concern is what is the point in the committee if officers’ recommendations are endorsed, no matter how valid the objectors’ reasons are.

“I realise that planning is a quasi-judicial process, but if you take out all elements of democracy, then it is a really sad day for this county.”

Referring to the split vote, he said: “The three people who voted against spoke very correctly and passionately. I think it is a north-south divide, or even a political divide.”