Homes on former school site given go-ahead at second attempt

A second bid to build 30 new homes on a former north Northumberland school site has been narrowly approved, despite the reservations of almost half the decision-making councillors.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 22 May, 2019, 11:57
The former Milfield County First School site. Picture by Jane Coltman

A resubmitted application for the former county first school site in Milfield, north of Wooler on the A697, was again recommended for approval when it went before the North Northumberland Local Area Council for a decision on Tuesday (May 21).

A motion to defer the decision until next month’s meeting was supported by five of the committee members and opposed by five (with one abstention), meaning it required the chairman, Coun Trevor Thorne’s, casting vote to reject it.

The motion to approve the scheme was then backed by six votes to four, with one abstention.

The school has not been in use since 2009 and the ‘closed and overgrown’ site, off Wheatriggs, is to be sold to the applicant, Gleeson Homes, by the county council.

Planning officers had recommended approval at last September’s meeting, but a majority of the committee agreed with Coun Robbie Moore, who said that the loss of open green space, ie, the former playing fields, meant the development was not sustainable in social or environmental terms.

Both proposals sparked objections from Sport England over the loss of the playing fields, but the planners’ view remained that it is not reasonable to withhold permission on these grounds given the fields have not been in use since the school closed and the likelihood is that they would remain redundant.

In an attempt to overcome councillors’ concerns though, the developer has now reached a private agreement with the parish council, which includes £30,000 towards the installation of a multi-use games area (MUGA) on the playing field to the south of the Wheatriggs Estate.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

This had led to the parish council withdrawing its objection, however, the meeting was told that the county council could not make this a condition of the planning permission nor of a section 106 legal agreement, with members advised that it should not form part of their planning decision.

This sparked a lengthy discussion between committee members and officers, with some initial confusion about how much attention should be paid to this agreement. The planners’ view was that the application is acceptable without it, as it was the first time round.

The scheme would feature nine two-bedroom, semi-detached properties, 19 three-bedroom houses (nine of which would be detached), and two four-bedroom detached dwellings.

Unlike the previous application, the existing access will now be closed up and a new entrance formed, opposite the existing Wheatriggs Terrace junction.

No affordable homes will be provided as it is claimed the scheme would not be viable, but the developer will have to provide contributions of £52,800 for education, due to Wooler First School being at near capacity, and £17,400 for healthcare.

Following a request made at the meeting, by a neighbour who otherwise supports the plans, an additional condition was added to require a temporary barrier to be put up during construction to prevent dust affecting nearby residents.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service