`

Alnwick planning inquiry, day 5: New planning framework halts hearing

Hardy and Greys on the Willowburn Trading Estate in Alnwick.
Hardy and Greys on the Willowburn Trading Estate in Alnwick.

There was a late spanner in the works at an appeal hearing for refused homes in Alnwick yesterday (Tuesday, July 24) as the Government published its updated planning rules.

A public inquiry has been taking place for a rejected outline application for around 125 homes on Willowburn Trading Estate.

The key issue is that the site is designated as employment land and not for residential development in the Alnwick and Denwick Neighbourhood Plan.

Trying to overturn the decision are the applicants – Northern Commercial Properties, whose majority shareholder is Lord James Percy, brother of the Duke of Northumberland, and the Harris & Sheldon Group, the landlord of Hardy and Greys owner Pure Fishing.

The refusal is being defended by Northumberland County Council, which was originally an applicant before withdrawing, and Alnwick Town Council, which was responsible for overseeing the development of the neighbourhood plan.

The hearing, which started last Tuesday, was due to conclude today with the closing statements from the three parties.

But yesterday afternoon, the Government published the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – the overarching rulebook for planning. This is the first update since its introduction in 2012 and implements around 85 reforms.

Given the potential impact of this, it was agreed that the inquiry could not continue as planned and will now be concluded in writing.

The new timetable will see position statements on any relevant changes in the NPPF submitted by Friday, August 17, followed by the county and town councils’ closing statements by Friday, August 31, and the appellants’ on Wednesday, September 5.

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

The proposal was recommended for approval at the previous month’s meeting, but was deferred for a site visit. Between the two meetings, Alnwick’s neighbourhood plan passed referendum and led officers to recommend refusal at the July meeting.

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.

The final decision will be made by planning inspector Nick Palmer.

On the opening day, last Tuesday (July 17), 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.

The following day, some of the tenants of the industrial estate were given a chance to share their views, highlighting their objections to losing what they see as a great place to do business.

Then, last Friday, employment land in Alnwick and the viability of the Willowburn estate were the focus.

Martin Lytollis, from Newcastle-based commercial property consultants Lambert Smith Hampton, who provided evidence for the appellants, said that the loss of the estate ‘wouldn’t cause any harm because of the more-than-ample number of employment sites to the east of the A1’.

He did not agree that the marketing of vacant units by Bradley Hall – which didn’t result in much success – had been ‘vague’, as was claimed.

However, under cross-examination, he conceded that between Alnmaritec moving out in 2011 and the start of the Bradley Hall marketing in 2015, a number of new tenants had moved into the boat-builder’s former premises.

By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service