Concerns over green belt as Northumberland Local Plan hearing continues

County Hall, Morpeth
 Picture by Jane ColtmanCounty Hall, Morpeth
 Picture by Jane Coltman
County Hall, Morpeth Picture by Jane Coltman
The proposed green belt in Northumberland remained under fire from housing developers as scrutiny of the Local Plan continued this week.

The key document includes the policies that will guide and determine future planning application and includes land allocations and designations.

Hearing sessions are currently taking place as part of the public examination, with planning inspector Susan Heywood’s role being to decide whether the plan is sound and meets the legal requirements.

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In drawing up the framework, Northumberland County Council has maintained that it can deliver growth in the county without building any homes in the green belt.

But, as previously reported, this assertion has been repeatedly called into question by participants at the hearings, representing landowners and house-builders.

While much of the focus so far has been on Hexham and other towns in the west of the county, during a session specifically on the green belt, attention turned to Morpeth.

It was suggested that the council needed to prove ‘exceptional circumstances’ to deviate from an established boundary, but the authority’s officers said that the boundary was simply being defined based on what had already been set out in a ‘saved’ policy from a former document – the Joint Structure Plan.

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The inspector was told that this boundary and policy had been used as the basis of planning decisions in the county and had been recognised by the Planning Inspectorate in appeal decisions.

But Chris Martin, of the Pegasus Group, representing Dysart Developments, said: “The report says that all green-belt options for the outer boundary around Morpeth met the requirements of the NPPF (the national rulebook) so why are you going for the widest boundary? You are putting superfluous land in the green belt when there’s no need.”

The inner boundary around Morpeth was also interrogated, with Stuart Natkus, of Barton Willmore, representing Taylor Wimpey, referring to a site which is south of the Morpeth Northern Bypass but which is proposed to be in the green belt, despite the NPPF saying that plans should ‘define boundaries clearly, using physical features that are readily recognisable and likely to be permanent’.

There were also concerns about the surrounding villages, with Glenn McGill, of MD2 Consulting, for Enterpen Ltd, saying that settlements were being ‘strangled’ with the ‘noose being drawn very tightly’ in relation to the inset boundaries.

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“The danger here is that there will be a gradual decline of the sustainability of settlements in rural areas,” he added.

But Steve Robson, one of the council’s chief planners, responded: “We aren’t directing development to small villages and hamlets through the plan so I’m not sure why we would be excluding land from the green belt in those areas.

“There are mechanisms to allow housing and economic growth in those areas.”

The green-belt issue has been raised during previous sessions in relation to further west in the county and these concerns were aired again on Thursday.

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Neil Westwick, from Lichfields, representing Story Homes, said that council’s housing requirement for Ponteland – which they didn’t agree with anyway – was 200 homes above what’s already committed, claiming therefore that ‘some green-belt deletions are necessary’.

Referring to several of the towns in the west of the county where green-belt deletions are proposed for employment land, Tom Baker, of Savills, for Barratt David Wilson Homes, said: “It’s not because there are no other non-green-belt sites for employment in the county, it’s that the council considers that there are specific employment needs for those areas.

“We have heard that the council is looking to match its economic growth aspirations with its housing aspirations. We would support those aspirations, but the final piece of the puzzle which doesn’t match up is that the council is not matching housing and employment aspirations at the local level.”

Mr Natkus added: “There hasn’t been a whole evidence base to show there are no exceptional circumstances (for green-belt deletions).

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“The council said that in an ideal world, housing and employment would be in the same place, but this is an ideal world, that’s why we are all here.”

Robin Wood, representing a number of clients, pointed out that the former Tynedale District Council area is ‘pretty much all green belt’, adding: “The idea 10 years ago that there would be no housing in the district because the neighbouring district Morpeth has housing land just wouldn’t have flown in my opinion.”

Additional examination sessions are planned to take place in December, while a second phase of hearings is earmarked for January/February.