A contentious bid to build affordable homes on the Northumberland coast was approved, despite objectors claiming it would deliver a fatal blow to a neighbourhood plan which was passed at referendum just hours later.
At last Thursday’s North Northumberland Local Area Council, planning chairman Coun Trevor Thorne used his casting vote to agree the hotly-disputed outline application for 20 properties on land south-west of St Cuthbert’s Close, off Main Street, North Sunderland.
The site is outside the settlement boundary, as designated in the North Northumberland Coast Neighbourhood Plan, which encompasses the villages of Bamburgh, Beadnell and Seahouses, and was adopted later that evening after receiving a Yes vote from residents.
Objectors argued that approving the homes would have ‘a regressive impact on the importance’ of the new strategy and conflicted with the plan, which aims to deliver appropriate/sustainable development in the right place.
Bamburgh councillor Guy Renner-Thompson, said: “We need affordable housing, but it doesn’t mean we put it anywhere. This is in the wrong place.
“We need to provide housing, but the boundary is there for a reason. The neighbourhood plan has reached the perfect balance, so for us to vote for going outside the settlement boundary on the very day of the referendum is wrong.”
Planning officers had recommended approval of the housing bid, as it was being put forward as a ‘rural exception site’ with the homes to be affordable in perpetuity.
At the meeting, they added that they didn’t want to breach the plan’s intentions. It was also pointed out that policy 9 of the plan states that, for development outside the settlement boundary, particular support will be given to ‘proposals for exception sites of affordable housing provision where they do not have a negative impact on sensitive settlement edge’.
Two registered providers have expressed interest in the scheme, with the majority of houses likely to be rentable.
Rothbury councillor Steven Bridgett said: “An application like this – 100 per cent affordable housing – is rare. I would walk across burning coals for that in my division.”
He also sought assurances from planning officers that they would look unfavourably on any attempt to convert a portion of the homes to market value in the future.
Coun Thorne, of the Shilbottle ward, said: “The neighbourhood plan says that an exception can be made for building outside the settlement boundary for affordable housing. By approving this, we are helping the community – this type of housing keeps a community together.”
Five members were in favour and five were against, so Coun Thorne used his casting vote to approve.
Later that night, the neighbourhood plan was adopted after 767 residents voted in support, with 85 against. There was a turnout of 39.5 per cent.
One of the key policies is that any new homes in the three parishes must be permanent residences, that is, lived in full-time and not second or holiday homes. The aim is to redress the imbalance between permanent housing and second homes, and in doing so, revitalise local communities and keep them sustainable.
Other areas that the plan focuses on are shop-front design/outdoor signage, coastal management and promoting the preservation and/or restoration of habitats and wildlife.
Coun Renner-Thompson said: “The turnout was extraordinary and the plan has generated national interest about the second-homes policy.
“The ethos is to preserve our coastline and coastal villages and to keep them special, which encourages the visitors so many local people rely on.”