Concern over outline planning applications in Northumberland

Northumberland planners are keen for developers to submit detailed plans and not outline applications in certain sensitive areas.

Monday, 26th October 2020, 3:00 pm
Northumberland County Council County Hall at Morpeth

However, the planning inspector carrying out the examination of the county’s Local Plan has questioned whether this requirement should be included as part of the document’s policies.

The second day of the second phase of hearings, on Wednesday, October 21, focused on the environment section of the plan, which aims to ‘conserve, protect and enhance character and significance of Northumberland’s distinctive and valued natural, historic and built environments’.

The inspector, Susan Heywood, asked why the policy on the Northumberland Coast area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) contained a requirement for a full planning application ‘where the nature or location of a development proposal necessitates detailed consideration of its impact on the special qualities of the AONB’.

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Northumberland County Council’s AONB officer, David Feige, said: “We have struggled as an AONB team to provide advice to our development management colleagues with outline applications.”

But Ms Heywood pointed out that the authority already has powers to request additional information from applicants – which could be highlighted within the plan’s supporting information.

She made the same point later on in the session in relation to a similar requirement in the policy on conservation areas.

Sara Rushton, from the council, said: “In a number of cases, we find it extremely difficult to make the impact assessments in relation to outline applications in conservation areas.

“I know we have the power to request that information, but quite often with these outline applications, that just doesn’t exist. There’s no details of the scale, massing or even orientation of the units.

“It’s a massive drain on resources dealing with these applications with very little information.”

The inspector suggested that this could be included within the supporting text rather than the policy, but Ms Rushton said: “That doesn’t carry the same weight and we would still get applicants coming forward with outline applications, and we can’t assess the harm.”

The council also highlighted that similar policies had been adopted in other local plans elsewhere in the country.

Ms Heywood agreed to look into this, saying: “Consistency among inspectors is important, but context is also important.”

The local plan, which provides a blueprint for the county up to 2036, will form the basis of how planning applications are decided and aims to support the creation of 15,000 new jobs.

Given the ongoing pandemic and to avoid any further delays, phase two of the hearings, running until November 19, are being conducted virtually with the public able to watch online – https://www.youtube.com/NorthumberlandTV

The schedule can be found on the examination website – https://tinyurl.com/yxr7vzun

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