Planning legislation under fire again

The site of the proposed homes to the south of Hillside West in Rothbury. Picture by Mary Scott
The site of the proposed homes to the south of Hillside West in Rothbury. Picture by Mary Scott

Rothbury’s county councillor launched a tirade against the planning system as another application for the village was considered this week.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the county council’s planning committee, members were recommended to approve a controversial scheme for nine homes on land to the south of Hillside Road West.

But Coun Steven Bridgett used his allotted five minutes to speak on the application for a scathing attack on the Government’s policies on affordable housing and the presumption in favour of development.

He also criticised how this meant the county council’s ‘hands were tied’, particularly because its own core strategy is yet to be finalised, and is ‘effectively being turned into nothing more than a means of issuing permits to developers’.

It’s fair to say that his remarks did not go down well with the committee, not least because of comments which seemed to question the integrity of the members, prompting Coun James Hutchinson to express his disappointment that Coun Bridgett was allowed to use such a forum for political statements.

It also sparked a response from the chairman, Coun Andrew Tebbutt, in which he said he was ‘satisfied that this committee is not politically motivated’ and explained that the quasi-judicial body had to make justified decisions based on the advice and recommendations of officers while being mindful of government and council policies.

However, there will be many in north Northumberland, specially those residents of villages which feel ‘under siege’ from developers, who have sympathy with Coun Bridgett’s views.

Following an approval at Gloster Hill in February, Coun Jeff Watson, for Amble West with Warkworth, expressed ‘his severe concern about the function of the planning committee’, adding: “What is the point in the committee if officers’ recommendations are endorsed, no matter how valid the objectors’ reasons are? I realise that planning is a quasi-judicial process, but if you take out all elements of democracy, then it is a really sad day for this county.”

Even Coun Tebbutt himself was frustrated when the local policies in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan were overridden by the economic benefits in the case of a major scheme to the west of Lancaster Park, as dictated by the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

In his speech, Coun Bridgett expressed antipathy to the NPPF because ‘it favours development’, but was particularly critical in this case that ‘the Government has seen fit to change the rules that allow developers to get away with piecemeal applications such as this, that consist of less that 10 properties and result in the developer not having to contribute towards any affordable housing’.

Guy Munden, for applicant the Northumberland Estates, highlighted that there were no statutory objections, that the site was available and achievable, and that it offered self-build plots, which are not widely available in Rothbury.

A motion to defer the decision and carry out a site visit was narrowly approved, by the chairman’s casting vote.