Controversial housing scheme approved again despite legal threat

The site of the proposed homes on the south-western tip of North Sunderland. Picture from Google
The site of the proposed homes on the south-western tip of North Sunderland. Picture from Google

A contentious plan for affordable homes on the Northumberland coast has been given the nod once more, backed by a ‘more robust case’.

At the May meeting of the North Northumberland Local Area Council, planning chairman Coun Trevor Thorne used his casting vote to approve an outline application for 20 properties on land south-west of St Cuthbert’s Close, off Main Street, North Sunderland.

The decision came on the day that the North Northumberland Coast Neighbourhood Plan passed referendum and this site lies outside the settlement boundary as defined in that plan.

Planning officers had recommended approval, as the scheme was being put forward as a ‘rural exception site’ with the homes to be affordable in perpetuity.

Policy nine of the neighbourhood 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 edges’.

But in July, Northumberland County Council received a pre-action protocol letter, expressing the intention of challenging the decision for judicial review.

This letter talks about issues such as the scale of the development, impact on the sensitive settlement edge, impact on the AONB, and affordable housing in relation to local need.

A report to last Thursday’s meeting of the North Northumberland Local Area Council responded to these matters, as well as reflecting on the publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in July, concluding that the latter ‘would not have a material impact’ on the recommendation.

Coun Jeff Watson said he was ‘quite perturbed’, but planning officer Ragu Sittambalam said that they had simply gone through a more thorough process given that there was a valid point raised in the letter about policy one of the neighbourhood plans and small-scale development, but that it had not affected the recommendation.

Planning manager Liz Sinnamon told councillors that there is ‘a more robust case before you today’.

Earlier in the meeting, one of those behind the proposed judicial review, Steve Williams, said that ‘the recent report has not changed our view and, in fact, some of it supports our case’.

But the applicant’s agent, Stephanie Linnell, of George F White, said that councillors should have confidence that their planning officers following due process in the face of a ‘threat of judicial review by a few residents living in newly-built houses near this site’.

This time round, members approved the scheme by eight votes to four.

A judicial review deals with the process used to reach a decision, not the rights or wrongs of the decision itself. If successful, the decision would be quashed and the application would likely be reconsidered.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service