Northumberland 2036: Hearings under way to examine plans for the county's future
The hearings for the examination of the Northumberland Local Plan, which will help shape the county up to 2036, are getting under way today.
This is the final stage of the creation of the key document, allowing developers, landowners and other interested parties a chance to challenge the contents of the plan, which has sparked a series of objections.
Northumberland County Council hopes the framework, which was submitted at the end of May, will be adopted and in place by March next year.
The Government has appointed planning inspector Susan Heywood to carry out the examination of the plan and her role is to determine whether or not it is sound and complies with all the relevant legal requirements.
The hearing sessions, which started today and are held in public at Morpeth Town Hall, form part of the examination and will be conducted in two phases, with the first taking place up until the end of October and the second earmarked for January/February.
The Northumberland Local Plan sets out strategic planning policies and principles for the whole county, the general scale and distribution of new development, and the detail of where new homes, workplaces and facilities should be located.
The housing numbers proposed are 17,700 over the 20-year plan period, down from 24,000 in a previous version.
The council says that the new plan will ensure that all communities are supported by adequate services, facilities and infrastructure, including housing, education, transport, health, social care, sport and recreation.
It is also about the county’s economy and the authority says the document has an ambition to provide homes to meet not only the needs of the resident population, but also to accommodate the needs of people moving into Northumberland.
The inspector has set out a number of ‘matters’ that are to be addressed during the course of this month’s hearings: Legal compliance and the duty to cooperate; spatial strategy; green belt and safeguarded land; economy and employment; town centres and central services; housing need/requirement, supply and delivery, and site allocations; Gypsy, traveller and travelling showpeople’s sites; and infrastructure and delivery, monitoring and viability.
The vast majority of those listed as participants for the hearings are representatives of house-builders, developers and landowners.
The Local Plan has had a troubled road up to this point, with a major change of direction accompanying the change of administration which took place after the council elections two years ago.
When the current Conservative leadership took office at County Hall in May 2017, one of its first moves was to withdraw the previous core strategy – a major element of the local plan.
The Tories maintained that there were fundamental issues with that strategy, not least that the housing numbers were too high and not based on the latest evidence, alongside their desire to protect the green belt.
But Labour, which previously led the council and is now in opposition, consistently raised concerns about the withdrawal, claiming it exposed the local authority to a number of risks.
In the wake of the withdrawal, the council admitted it did not expect its plan to be in place until summer 2020.
In November 2017, the then Communities Secretary Sajid Javid identified 15 local authorities which he felt had not made enough progress with their plans, including Northumberland, and outlined the possibility of government intervention.
However, in March last year, Mr Javid provided an update in writing to say that while he would not be intervening at this time, the possibility remained.
He said that the Northumberland plan’s preparation could be accelerated by up to three months, based on advice from the Planning Advisory Service, and that the timetable should be amended accordingly and also made more clear by referring to specific months.
Since then, the council has been targeting March next year for the adoption of the Local Plan, which went out to public consultation last summer and again at the start of this year.