Row rumbles on over housing supply in Northumberland

Developers have again lined up to say that Northumberland’s Local Plan will not deliver enough housing to meet the county’s needs.

Thursday, 29th October 2020, 5:56 pm
Northumberland's County Hall in Morpeth.

They have highlighted shortfalls in certain key locations and have also claimed that there won’t be enough new homes coming forward towards the end of the plan period, which runs from 2016 to 2036.

However, the county council claims that given the amount of housing built or approved in recent years, there will naturally be a drop in delivery later in the plan period, but that the overall minimum housing requirement of 17,700 will comfortably be met.

Housing land supply was a topic during the first phase of hearings as part of the examination of the plan, in October 2019, but it was back on the agenda during the second phase after the authority submitted additional information.

At the session on Tuesday, October 27, planning inspector Susan Heywood was told that the council was facing a shortfall in terms of delivery against need in key towns in the west of the county, such as Hexham, Ponteland and Prudhoe, as well as in the Seaton Valley to the east.

Alastair Willis, of Lichfields, representing Commercial Estates, said that the ‘council is proposing a totally inappropriate strategy for housing allocation’ and it is ‘failing on that strategy anyway’.

Barton Willmore’s James Hall, for Bellway, claimed that it ‘needs to be considered at the settlement level’, while Chris Martin, of the Pegasus Group, for Dysart and Gleeson, suggested that it will result in ‘a very unbalanced growth coming forward, with some settlements seeing growth and some being left behind; that’s not sustainable development’.

In response, one of the council’s principal planning officers, Steve Robson, said: “All those settlements are constrained by the green belt. We have a modest shortfall in some of those areas, but without going into the green belt, it’s possible to meet those shortfalls.

“We should be aiming for those numbers, but a modest shortfall is not a reason to bring the plan down, for want of a better phrase.”

Stuart Natkus, of Barton Willmore, representing Taylor Wimpey, described the phrase as a ‘bit emotive’, adding: “We are not in that territory here, we just need to allocate a couple more sites.”

Providing a different view to that of the volume housebuilders, Ronnie Baird, of Enterpen, spoke on behalf of small and medium businesses: “There needs to be more allocations in the villages, they will go into decline without allocations.

“A more positive plan is required and more applications approved, which particularly address the needs of elderly people and younger people to get these villages growing.

“Ignoring these villages and focusing on big allocations in the main settlements might suit the standard house-builders, but it doesn’t address the market.”

Later in the discussion, addressing concerns about demonstrating a rolling five-year supply of housing land, the council’s Andrea King said: “The requirement is 17,700 over the plan period, not 885 a year – that’s just an annual average.

“The delivery over the first four years of the plan period being above the average requirement simply shows we have boosted the supply and doesn’t mean we need to continue at that level over the rest of the plan period.”

Looking further into the plan period, the developers said that an updated schedule of sites provided by the council only serves to underline their concerns about a ‘front-loaded plan’.

Mr Martin said: “One of the main aims of this plan is to rebalance the population of Northumberland, which is an ageing population, and to boost the working-age population.

“When you get to the back end of the plan period, it then becomes very difficult for the council to meet that aim. It’s not a sustainable model to front-load your delivery like that.”

Mr Natkus added: “(The document) shows the huge reliance on commitments and the lack of allocations in this plan, the lack of planning really.

“When you get to the last five years of the plan, it really does fizzle out with not a lot coming forward.”

The reasons behind the Conservative administration withdrawing the previous version of the core strategy – a key element of the local plan – were that it claimed the housing numbers were too high and a desire to protect the green belt.

But Mr Willis said: “I would suggest that the council seriously considers some form of mechanism to introduce an early review and by that I mean a genuine review which seriously considers a green-belt release in the rural west, particularly around Hexham.”

Ms King responded to say that the five-year supply reduces towards the back end of the plan because of the delivery being above the average annual requirement.

She added that a review would be likely in the not-too-distant future as this is what the NPPF, the national planning rulebook, calls for and if requirements change, the county has potential sites which have not been included in the plan.

Ms King also highlighted that there is plenty of scope for windfall sites (unallocated sites which come forward unexpectedly) and that the plan features policies for exception sites, including in rural areas and which could be in the green belt.

The session on Thursday, October 29, discussed specific sites which are proposed to be removed as housing allocations for a variety of reasons, including no longer being available or concerns about the impact on heritage sites, for example, at Otterburn.

The local plan 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, will be 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

The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers and consequently the advertising that we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news by buying a copy of our newspaper. If you can, please do pick up a copy when you are at the shops. Thank you for your support.