Absence of plan leads to homes ‘free-for-all’ in Northumberland

Objectors to the Northumberland Estates' housing plans for Warkworth. Picture by The Ambler.
Objectors to the Northumberland Estates' housing plans for Warkworth. Picture by The Ambler.

Politicians have criticised the time taken for the county to develop its new planning guidelines, also claiming that developers are taking advantage.

It comes as protesters are fighting against plans for nearly 70 homes in Warkworth by Northumberland Estates, which recently won appeals for 37 houses in the village, plus 47 in Shilbottle.

The company has also submitted plans for nearly 60 properties in Rothbury.

Would-be MP Julie Pörksen described Northumberland as a ‘free-for-all for developers’ in the absence of a core strategy.

And after a public meeting in Warkworth on Saturday, she blasted the Estates for ‘not using its power responsibly, inundating the county with out-of-proportion applications’.

Fellow would-be MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who also went to the meeting, added: “The lack of a finalised core strategy from our county council has left our small communities vulnerable to developers.”

“If a village wants to stop unwanted development it is much harder to achieve until the core strategy is in place.”

However, Coun Steven Bridgett believes the core strategy will carry ‘little weight’ compared to the National Planning Policy Framework. But he does believe that the Estates was ‘frontloading the planning system’.

Consultation on the core strategy full draft plan runs until February 11 and a spokeswoman for the county council said: “The core strategy has to address difficult and controversial issues facing the county.

“The technical work required to be undertaken to ensure that we have a robust evidence base to support the core strategy is significant.

“Given the controversial issues that the document must deal with, it is essential that we ensure appropriate time to pro-actively engage with our communities and undertake further work in response to feedback.”

Colin Barnes, from the Estates, hit back. He said: “The Local Plan sets out a requirement for over 23,000 new homes in Northumberland to address population decline, affordability, ageing population and a lack of investment. Our applications meet a small fraction of the housing which is needed.”

Meanwhile, a review of the planning system at the county council has been published, having been commissioned due to concerns over the ‘consistently poor’ performance since the merger of the six district and borough councils.

It points out that applications considered at the area committees make up 43 per cent of applications going to appeal, despite the committees only dealing with 10 per cent of all applications.

The authority was successful at appeal in 33 per cent of cases where the committee had ignored the officer advice compared to 64 per cent where it concurred and 78 per cent that had been decided under delegated powers.

The north area planning committee, which covers the area from Morpeth up to the Scottish border, dealt with 44 per cent of all the county’s applications in 2013/14.