Councillors reluctantly grant permission for fourth round of changes to controversial housing development

Computer-generated images of a new housing estate have been released by Barratt Homes

By James Robinson
Friday, 8th April 2022, 4:32 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd April 2022, 12:51 pm
A CGI of the New Hartley housing development.

The pictures have been released just days after councillors reluctantly granted the company permission to alter a development of almost 300 homes for a fourth time.

Barratt Homes applied for permission to increase the number of three and four-bedroom homes at its controversial development at New Hartley, while decreasing the number of two-bedroom homes.

Members on Northumberland County Council’s planning committee agreed that there were no planning reasons to refuse the application, despite opposition from local residents and Seaton Valley Parish Council.

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A CGI of what the development will look like.

Councillors had previously refused the development of 285 homes, but it was granted approval on appeal following a public inquiry, costing the Northumberland taxpayer £100,000.

Speaking at a meeting of the planning committee, parish councillor Graham Eastwood said the community had “significant concerns” about further amendments proposed to the development, and was particularly worried about the changes to open spaces in the development.

He said: “The applicant has not demonstrated there is evidence to support the changes to the houses. It is about profit not about need.

“We urge members to refuse this and ensure residents will have access to open space which is so valuable to their health and wellbeing.”

But Barratt Homes planning manager Amy Ward explained that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the housing market meant the changes were necessary.

She said: “The local housing market has changed since 2015. Demand has never been higher for larger homes, with a notable increase in people looking for space for home working,” and added that a family needing a two-bedroom home would, in many cases, now need a three-bedroom home.

Coun Barry Flux said he had “problems” with the application that has been coming back to the council for half a decade now.

He said: “I don’t know how I’m going to vote because I would like to find something to stop it. Are we going to be here again talking about this application in six months time because the market has changed again?

“I have sympathy for the residents. It has changed and changed again, it is desperately unfair on the residents.”

But the council’s director of planning, Rob Murfin, warned members that repeated changes were not a legal reason for refusal and said it was common practice in the industry.

His comments were echoed by Coun Ian Hutchinson, who said: “There is a lot of concern over it, but there’s no real planning reason to refuse this. The fact that the developer could make more profit – finance isn’t a planning reason.

“If this went to appeal it would cost the taxpayer a lot of money, because we would lose on appeal. I would urge everyone to vote for this.”

The application was approved, although two councillors voted against and one abstained.

A spokesperson for Barratt Developments North East said: “Following careful review of the current homeowner demands in the local area, we have revised the layout for the Church Fields development in New Hartley.

"Whilst we are not increasing the overall number of homes on the development, we are increasing the number of three and four bedroom homes because we understand that many customers have changed what they are looking for in a home, following the Covid pandemic. More homeowners want to have flexible options, such as a home office or more outdoor space. The three and four bedroom homes will meet this need and provide quality housing for local residents.

“We are also committed to supporting the local community, and as well as investing £160k in highway improvements, we are contributing £170k for much-need coastal protection. This is part of our commitment as a sustainable housebuilder.”