An ‘ambitious but sustainable’ plan for Northumberland, to replace the previous ‘builder’s charter’, has been wholeheartedly backed by the county council’s leadership.
The publication draft of the Northumberland Local Plan was approved by the authority’s cabinet on Wednesday (December 19) and will go before full council in January, before it is made available for final public scrutiny and then submitted to the Government in May.
This local plan was drawn up after the Conservative administration at County Hall withdrew the previous core strategy – one of the main elements of the local plan.
Council leader Peter Jackson said: “This is a major, major piece of work for this council and I’m incredibly pleased with the amount of detail that had gone into this plan.
“It was quite a brave decision by this administration to remove the previous core strategy, but for the reasons rehearsed at the time, it was the right thing to do, as it maps out the future of Northumberland for the next 20 years.
“The previous plan didn’t really take into account the future economic need of the county, it was all about houses and not about building a prosperous Northumberland for the future.
“I think it was right to have a rest and think about where we want the county to go over the next 20 years. We want Northumberland to be fit for trading in a worldwide economy whatever happens in Europe.”
He added that ‘the weight of opinion across the county is now behind us’, claiming this was true even of the Labour opposition, which has withdrawn its motion to January’s full council meeting to reinstate its core strategy.
The first draft of the plan was consulted on over the summer and changes have been made since then, but the consultation on the latest draft, which is set to run from January 30 to March 13, is confined to the soundness of the plan, rather than changes to the content.
Paul Johnston, the council’s interim executive director of place, said that he was happy to recommend the plan as one which meets the soundness checks, adding that it is a very full, thorough, well-prepared and evidenced document which meets the needs of Northumberland.
One of the updates, in line with new national guidance, is that the proportion of affordable homes required on a new housing development would be on a sliding scale, depending on where it is in the county – from 10 per cent in low-value areas through 15 and 25 per cent up to 30 per cent in the highest value areas.
Quality of design in new developments has been highlighted as a high priority in the plan and policies around this have been brought together in a new chapter.
Plus, the council has also published scoping documents on design and highways/transportation, which together will provide developers, landowners and applicants with clear principles, guidance and good practice.
The housing numbers proposed, much reduced from the withdrawn core strategy, remain at 17,700 over the 20-year plan period (down from 24,000), although there has been some amendments to the distribution of these.
It was also highlighted that there are more than 23,000 homes in the county which have been built since 2016 – the start of the plan period, with planning permission or which are minded to approve, explaining why there is no need to allocate any green belt for housing.
Coun Wayne Daley, the council’s deputy leader, said that the fact that the previous two council administrations failed to get a plan to this stage was ‘a real testament to the work of cabinet colleagues, but mainly the staff’.
“This plan is ambitious – a word we shouldn’t be afraid of using, but it’s also sustainable. The previous core strategy was a builder’s charter.”
Coun Richard Wearmouth, cabinet member for economic development, added: “We thought when we came into power that we could do better than be a dormitory county for Tyneside.
“This plan puts homes where we need them and reflects the need for jobs and investments, while supporting the strategic needs of roads and railways and protecting our airport as well.”
Summing up, Coun Jackson said: “It’s about the confidence of Northumberland to take itself forward. No longer are we going to hide our light under a bushel.
“Northumberland is one of the best counties in the country. If you are going to relocate your family, why not here? If you are going to relocate your business, why not here?”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service