Offer of £1 land for affordable homes salvaged

An offer of land for rare affordable homes in a tiny village has been salvaged by councillors after planning officers decided to reject it.

Ralph Holmes is prepared to sell three plots for £1 to Northumberland County Council if it allows him to build a three-bedroom stone-and-slate house for

himself at Sharperton in Upper Coquetdale, where he has lived for 25 years.

The deal is described by ward councillor Steven Bridgett as a ‘unique proposition’, but council staff were going to use their delegated powers to turn it down. That was until Coun Bridgett had the application referred to the committee.

On Thursday night, they voted to visit the site before discussing the proposal. They were advised by senior planning officer Neil Armstrong to refuse permission because Sharperton was an ‘unsustainable’ village, lacking services apart from school buses.

But suggesting the visit, Coun Trevor Thorne said the new national planning framework allowed groups of settlements to be considered together when measuring sustainability. This was a good example, because Harbottle, 1.4 miles away, had a school, a shop, a village hall and a doctor’s surgery.

The site and adjoining land, near Mr Holmes’s North Sharperton Steads home, gained permission for two houses in 1988, but only one was built. His applications for a house were rejected in 1995 and 2002, the latter decision upheld by a plannng inspector because national and local policies said only exceptional need would justify a new house in a village with no services.

Mr Armstrong said the county’s new core strategy did not even identify 25-home Sharperton as suitable for housing for local needs and it was classed as countryside.

Coun Bridgett has declared on Facebook that the policy condemning Sharperton as unsustainable is ‘madness’ and ‘we are desperate for low-cost housing’. He wholeheartedly backed the applicant.

Councillors will visit the site on Monday.