Watchdog says county broke own rules in granting new homes

A government watchdog has suggested county council bosses in Northumberland may have broken their own rules in granting permission for a controversial housing development.

Sunday, 3rd October 2021, 6:24 pm
Northumberland County Hall at Morpeth.

Plans for 31 new homes in Bellingham, on land north-east of Bridgeford View, were given the green light by Northumberland County Council (NCC) last year, despite concerns over flooding at the site and whether it would meet the village’s needs.

And a ruling by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has now confirmed there were “faults” in the way the local authority reached its decision on the proposals, but also conceded they were not likely to have affected the final outcome.

One of the issues identified by the regulator suggested the needs of older people in the village had not been considered properly, something which was raised by opponents of the development.

The council claimed its “standard paragraph” confirming it had considered its “equality duty” had been missed off its final report on the proposals in “error”.

But this excuse was dismissed by the LGO’s investigators, which said this showed the planning department had been at fault, adding: “Issues were raised here that should have prompted specific consideration by the council under its equality duties. The consideration should be active and not an administrative formality.

“The council’s response that it was an administrative error not to include the paragraph suggests it is included by rote and did not demonstrate that it was actively considered.”

The LGO also accepted the county council’s rules on which of its planning committees should have ruled on the application were “unclear”.

But while it recommended NCC should “correct” the wording of its governing constitution, it insisted it had “not affected the consideration of the application”.

Paul Bell, of Briar Hill, who submitted the complaint to the ombudsman, accepted the findings, but said he still had issues with the council’s decision on the planning application, particularly after a 2019 assessment of the area had revealed local desire for smaller properties.

He added: “The main issues are still the access to and within the site – it’s unsuitable for anyone old because of the steepness.

“[The plans have] totally the wrong type of houses for the Bellingham demographic.”

A spokesman for Northumberland County Council said: “We note the Ombudsman’s findings and welcome the fact the decision still stands.”