A planning decision this week could mark a turning point in the battle against the over-proliferation of second homes on the north Northumberland coast.
The approval of new homes in Beadnell, but only for use as permanent residences, could set a precedent that would have profound effects on the area and its villages, many of which are struggling due to the high number of second and holiday properties.
There are understandable doubts as to whether this restriction can be enforced, but if it can, it will surely be copied elsewhere.
If not, then it is clear that there is little that can be done to prevent even more second homes being built in these coastal communities.
Reacting to the decision, the area’s county councillor, John Woodman, said: “This has been a very contentious application. Now it has been approved, it’s essential that the council does enforce the principal residence requirement so that the development supports rather than detracts from the community.”
He continued: “Forty-five houses is a major development in the context of our coastal villages. The application was only approved because there were felt to be exceptional circumstances justifying it – the fact that all houses have to be occupied as a principal residence.
“After a number of years of over-development on the coast in the AONB, major applications should not happen unless there are similar restrictions or significant benefits for the community.”
Restriction on second homes lands go-ahead
The promise of permanent, rather than second, homes led councillors to approve plans for new housing on the north Northumberland coast.
The section 106 legal agreement for Northumberland Estates’ outline application for 45 homes on land south of Kennedy Green in Beadnell will mean that all of the new properties would be secured for occupation by permanent residents.
The scheme was still heavily opposed, sparking almost 200 objections as well as opposition from Beadnell Parish Council, and at Tuesday’s meeting of the county council’s strategic planning committee, it was clear that opponents do not feel that the restriction can be enforced.
Objector Carole Field said: “Can you really ignore the wishes of people who care so passionately about the future of our beautiful village?”
However, following questions to the planning officers and county solicitor, all but one of the councillors was persuaded to support the scheme.
The proposed site is within the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the planning officer’s report explains that ‘planning permission should be refused for major developments in such areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest’.
Given the scale of second and holiday-home ownership in Beadnell, it is the proposed restriction of the properties as permanent residences which means the development would meet this exceptional circumstances test. This is only after it was agreed that this would apply to all of the new houses and in perpetuity.
Coun Gordon Castle said: “The crucial thing is the apparently enforceable condition of permanent residency. Without that, I would not be able to support it.”
He added: “Officers will be expected to enforce these conditions meticulously.”
Coun Andrew Tebbutt said: “My heart says I hope this doesn’t go wrong. My head says, don’t be silly, Coun Tebbutt, you might end up with something worse.”
Coun Ian Swithenbank emphasised the point that any appeal may result in approval without any restrictions. He added: “This is not the application we would choose to have in front of us, but it is the issue we have to deal with. Either refusal or deferrment would result in a worse outcome for people in Beadnell.”
The development would comprise 13 two-bedroom homes, 23 three-bedroom dwellings and nine four-bedroom units. Seven of the two-bed and two of the three-bed properties would be affordable homes – a 20 per cent provision on site.
A new access road would join from Swinhoe Road about 320 metres to the west of the site.
As well as the affordable housing and the occupancy restriction, other requirements of the approval would be £25,000 for a seasonal dog warden and information boards to mitigate possible impacts on birds in the nearby sensitive areas plus £5,500 to extend the 30mph limit westwards on Swinhoe Road.
After the meeting, Coun John Woodman, the area’s ward member, said: “The developer is making a contribution towards the cost of a dog warden. After a growth in concerns about the behaviour of dog owners, this could be helpful.”
He highlighted this as one of three lessons to be learned from this application, alongside exceptional circumstances being necessary to allow major development in the AONB and that there is no need for more major development in Beadnell in particular.
Coun Woodman added: “I’m also sorry that only 20 per cent of the housing is to be affordable as the area needs more social housing for rent. I hope that there may be opportunities to consider that as any plans are finalised.”