How Northumberland plan tries to tackle issues in county’s north

Affordable homes under construction in Alnmouth last November.
Affordable homes under construction in Alnmouth last November.

Residents will soon get their final say on a plan for the county that should lead to a measure of control over some of the thorny issues for rural north Northumberland.

Wind turbines, affordable housing and second homes are all addressed in the latest draft of the county’s core strategy, a key document that sets out how Northumberland should develop up to 2031.

The document states that 'onshore wind turbines represent a significant force for change on the landscape of Northumberland'.

The document states that 'onshore wind turbines represent a significant force for change on the landscape of Northumberland'.

There has been criticism in recent months that the planning situation in the county is currently a ‘free-for-all’ for developers as the Government’s overarching National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development.

Many are unhappy that this means that the wrong types of housing are being built in the wrong places, but the Northumberland Local Plan and the next tier below – neighbourhood plans, which are being developed by many communities – will provide policies to control where development should take place.

This latest draft, which goes before Northumberland County Council’s cabinet for approval on Tuesday, is the pre-submission draft, the last stage before it is submitted to Government for independent examination.

Residents will get the chance to have their say – the fifth consultation on the strategy – from October 14 to November 25.

This draft has not watered down the controls on wind turbines, particularly given changes to Government policy this year, but proponents of affordable housing may not welcome a benchmark of 15 per cent on new permissions.

The previous draft proposed a 30 per cent affordable housing target for Northumberland.

‘There has been concern from the development industry’, the report reads, although it goes onto reaffirm that ‘the council considers it appropriate to set a target at the Northumberland level that 30 per cent of all new homes should be affordable’.

However, based on the need to provide 401 affordable homes per year and the forecast for provision over the next five years, the draft says there is only a requirement for 15 per cent of dwellings on new permissions to be affordable.

For example, in a proposed new scheme of 100 homes, the developer would be required to make 15 of them affordable (under the definition provided in the NPPF).

The document does go on to say, however, that ‘where need is high, a contribution in excess of the 15 per cent target may be required. Where little or no need is identified, a lower contribution may be acceptable’.

The draft policy also contains a caveat to say that a contribution in excess of the 15 per cent target will be expected if the overall 30 per cent plan target is not being met.

In low-density developments, such as estates of large, executive homes, the contribution ‘will be identified as a percentage of dwellings or site area, whichever is the greater’.

In north Northumberland, the affordability of housing is inextricably linked with the issue of second homes.

The report says: ‘It is recognised that concentrations of holiday accommodation can have a negative impact on the social fabric of a community such as diminished support for local facilities and school provision.

‘In north Northumberland, the demand for holiday accommodation, along with rises in house prices, has made many of the smaller properties unaffordable to the local population’.

But any attempt to limit the use of new housing will have to come at the most local level or be tackled via ‘a positive approach to planning for and delivering affordable housing for local people’.

It says: ‘While the core strategy will not specifically restrict the use of new market housing, the council recognises that it may be appropriate for some parish councils to address this issue through neighbourhood plans’.

The policy on onshore wind energy includes a list of 10 requirements to be met for the application to be supported, while there are clear directions on the need to consider cumulative impact.’

‘The council has recognised that onshore wind turbines represent a significant force for change on the landscape of Northumberland’.

What’s more, the council acknowledges that ‘the county has already made a significant contribution in the delivery of renewable energy, particularly through wind-energy schemes’.

“Given the scale of renewable energy development already constructed, or with planning consent, additional schemes have the potential to further impact on the special character of the county.

‘The council considers there is a limit to the scale of development that can be accommodated across Northumberland in general and in some local areas in particular, without significantly adversely affecting the special landscapes and cultural heritage of Northumberland, as well as the amenity of its residents’.