The proposals for 12 lodges, on land west of Treetops, Callaly Road, a site which lies in Whittingham’s conservation area, were unanimously refused by the North Northumberland Local Area Council in December 2017 in line with the planning officer’s recommendation.
This was despite the fact that the site had an extant planning permission for five homes, dating back to 2013.
But, as planning inspector Andrew McCormack was told at the hearing on Wednesday (January 30), Northumberland County Council now disputes this, saying that despite work on the site, that permission has not been implemented as a number of conditions have not been discharged.
The applicants, however, claim that they didn’t know this, having not received the official decision notice, but being told in discussions with planning and highways officers that they had done what was required of them.
Andrew Young, the applicant’s son who has also acted as agent, asked why, if the work on the site was not lawful, the council hadn’t taken enforcement action, but council planning officer James Bellis said that nothing would be done while there was an ongoing appeal anyway.
Planning consultant Maria Ferguson, for the applicant, added: “Regardless, I don’t think the planning department can roll back on the fact it found that scheme acceptable at the time.”
However, the main issue the inspector wished to consider, based on the reason for refusal for the lodges, was the impact ‘on the character and appearance of the surrounding area, with particular regard to the Whittingham Conservation Area’.
Ian McCaffery, the council’s building conservation officer, explained that a different officer deemed the approved homes scheme acceptable: “That would be a view I wouldn’t agree with – it’s an important part of the setting of the conservation area and I would be concerned about development on that pasture.”
Regardless, he said that the opinion on the five homes was that they were only acceptable if they matched the properties in the historic core of Whittingham, which would not be the case with lodges.
“It’s an introduction to the conservation area and I think it’s valid for us to protect that area,” he added.
Ms Ferguson disagreed, saying: “We have argued it would enhance the setting of the conservation area. It’s a paddock and seen as separate from the village centre and others areas.”
Referring to the fact that Callaly Road features bungalows and the approved homes were two and three-storey, she added: “Lodges would be barely noticeable in the landscape.”
But Mr McCaffery said: “It’s difficult to imagine how 12 lodges, with associated services, parking and materials which will be made in a factory, how that could be said to preserve the character of Whittingham, which is open fields and 18th and 19th-century stone buildings.”
This led to a detailed discussion about the materials for the pre-fabricated lodges and how they could be controlled by the council to ensure they were acceptable, were the scheme to be approved.
There were also differences of opinion and confusion around which conditions, relating to the likes of road improvement works and tied to the original approved scheme, would or would not apply to the lodges bid, were the appeal to succeed.
That was not the only example of a breakdown in communication between departments within the council, and the authority and the applicant, with the issue further complicated by the fact that the original planning officer for the lodges application has now left the authority.
The inspector will publish his decision at a later date.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service