The proposals by Homes England, for land at West Hartford Business Park, to the north-west of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s HQ, were unanimously rejected at last Tuesday’s (January 8) meeting of the county council’s strategic planning committee.
The bid was a hybrid submission seeking full planning permission for a wildlife mitigation area covering 26 hectares on the northern part of the site and outline permission for up to 501 dwellings, a primary-care facility and associated open space on the southern 25-hectare section of the site.
But planners had recommended refusal as allowing it to be used for housing ‘would result in the loss of a high-quality employment site’.
Setting out the reasons, planning officer Geoff Horsman explained that this site represents more than half the employment land available in Cramlington and 10 per cent of the county’s total.
At 32 hectares, it is also the largest single site available in Northumberland, which makes it valuable if there were a large-scale investor needing a large area for development.
A secondary reason for refusal was that ‘insufficient detail had been provided regarding bird-strike risk matters’ and while the applicant felt this could be dealt with via a condition, the council’s ecologist disagreed.
Coun Barry Flux, ward member for Cramlington West, backed the views of both the planners and Cramlington Town Council, which had submitted a detailed objection, adding: “Houses here would result in an already jam-packed Cramlington becoming even busier.”
However, representatives of Homes England, formerly the Homes and Communities Agency, the government body which aims to boost national housing numbers, pointed out that the site had been available since 1999 with no take-up and that previous advice from the council was that there was no likelihood of employment use coming forward.
Coun Jeff Reid raised the point that the site was originally bought by the regional development agency One NorthEast and is only owned by Homes England now because it was given to them when One NorthEast was abolished. It was pointed out that this is not a material planning consideration.
Coun Ian Swithenbank added: “With a major industrial site, it’s easy to say no one wants it now.” But if someone came forward in six months’ time and homes have been approved, it would be a ‘dereliction of duty’, he said.
Summing up, Coun Reid said: “The land was bought by an organisation whose only role was to create employment and it fell into the hands of people who want to build houses. Building houses on there is a waste of that site’s potential.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service