Alnwick planning inquiry, day 1: ‘Neighbourhood plan already dated’

The current Hardy and Greys site at the Willowburn Trading Estate, Alnwick.
The current Hardy and Greys site at the Willowburn Trading Estate, Alnwick.

Alnwick’s neighbourhood plan is ‘fundamentally out of date, silent and absent’ despite being approved just a year ago, it has been claimed.

That’s according to the lawyer representing the developers wanting to build around 125 homes on the Willowburn Trading Estate, speaking at an appeal hearing which started today (July 17).

The housing plan for the trading estate, which is the subject of the planning inquiry.

The housing plan for the trading estate, which is the subject of the planning inquiry.

The outline scheme was refused unanimously by Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee last July.

The proposal, by Northern Commercial Properties, whose majority shareholder is Lord James Percy, and the Harris & Sheldon Group (the county council was one of the applicants before withdrawing), was recommended for approval at the previous month’s meeting, but was deferred for a site visit.

Between the two meetings, the Alnwick and Denwick Neighbourhood Plan, which does not allow residential development on this site as it is designated as employment land, passed referendum and led officers to recommend refusal at the July meeting.

But this was appealed by the applicants, so the final decision will be made by Planning Inspector Nick Palmer following this inquiry, which is expected to run until next Wednesday.

Opening the hearing, he said that the main issues would be whether the development plan policies for employment and housing land are up to date and the effects of this proposal on the supply of employment land.

And in his opening statement, Sasha White QC, for the applicants, said that the neighbourhood plan is out of date as it relies on assumptions of the evidence in the Northumberland-wide core strategy, which was withdrawn by the county council’s new Conservative administration last July.

He said that the neighbourhood plan, which was the result of years of work by local people, ‘has no parent development plan which is up to date or tested’, adding: “The evidence base for employment land is completely inadequate.”

But the refusal is being defended by both the county council and Alnwick Town Council, which was responsible for overseeing the development of the neighbourhood plan.

Simon Pickles, for the county council, said that the neighbourhood plan ‘provides a very robust basis’ for housing and employment allocations in Alnwick.

He pointed out that the applicants in this case had objected to the employment land policies in the neighbourhood plan during its independent examination, but their concerns were rejected by the Planning Inspector.

Freddie Humphreys, for the town council, said that the neighbourhood plan aims to achieve growth and doesn’t just seek to retain employment land, but increase it.

He added that the importance of neighbourhood planning in the overall planning process is clear and Alnwick’s document remains up to date.

The rest of the day was taken up by the evidence of two Northumberland County Council planning officers – Steve Robson on planning policy and Tony Lowe, who dealt with the application.

This will continue tomorrow, while local people who have an interest in the site or want to have a say will also be given a chance to share their views.

Since the appeal was lodged, a second outline bid – this time for up to 100 homes with the county council-owned land removed from the proposed site – was submitted before it too was unanimously refused last month.

Last week, it was revealed that world-famous fishing brand Hardy and Greys, now owned by Pure Fishing, could move away from its current home on the Willowburn Trading Estate to a new base at Cawledge, next to the Hog’s Head Inn.

By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service