As previously reported, the next stage in the development of the planning framework got underway this week, when examination hearing sessions began.
The key document was submitted to the Government in May and it is now subject to public examination by an independent planning inspector – Susan Heywood.
The inspector’s role is to decide whether the plan is sound and complies with all the relevant legal requirements. In doing this, she will take into account all of the comments that were made on the submission draft.
The plan includes the policies that will guide and determine future planning applications in Northumberland, details the scale and distribution of new development and includes land allocations and designations.
It has been designed to grow and diversify the economy, with the local authority targeting the creation of 15,000 new jobs in the county by 2036.
In his opening statement to the hearings on Tuesday October 8, council leader Peter Jackson said: “For too long our county has been seen as a backwater both regionally and nationally with little direction and leadership.
“For too long we have seen decline in both our towns and in our rural communities. For too long we have seen ourselves as just a dormitory of Newcastle and Tyneside and creating little for ourselves.
“Well that is changing. We are creating a more prosperous, more confident, more outward-looking county, making our own positive and prosperous future through actions such as the creation of this ambitious Local Plan.”
He placed a lot of emphasis on economic growth, referring to the North of Tyne devolution deal and the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.
“At the same time, we are making real steps in helping government realise a major component of the National Industrial Strategy in the off-shore renewable sector,” he added.
However, one of the key thrusts of the inspector’s questions this week, when the focus has been on the green belt, spatial strategy and economy and employment, has been the robustness of the evidence that the council has used to justify its policies and allocations.
A number of objectors had similar questions, with many of them present at sessions to put forward their case, mainly on behalf of developers and landowners.
There are no hearings taking place next week (October 14 to 18) before the attention turns to what is likely to be one of the most hotly-disputed areas – housing need and requirement on Tuesday, October 22.
The rest of the week will focus on the likes of employment site allocations, infrastructure and town centres, before the following week, the attention comes back to housing – allocated sites and supply.
In his statement, Coun Jackson said: “Our levels of housing supply means that we don’t consider there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ to warrant strategic releases of green-belt land for new homes.
“But let me be clear – the Local Plan seeks to deliver, in full, the housing needs of the county within its boundaries.
“We have stepped up to the mark, and we have based the plan on a higher annual housing apportionment than the minimum required by central government.”
A second phase of hearing sessions is earmarked to take place in January/February next year with the council previously targeting March for the Northumberland Local Plan to be adopted and come into full force.
Earlier this week, Coun John Riddle, the authority’s cabinet member for planning and housing, said: “We know that having a robust local plan in place is very important to Northumberland communities and the council has put a number of measures in place to accelerate its production.
“These hearings mark the next important stage in its completion and we will continue to work closely with the planning inspector to make sure that she has all of the information that she needs to examine the plan.”