'We're being conned' claim as bid gets green light despite concerns

Residents have reacted furiously after a controversial planning application was narrowly passed by councillors despite concerns over future development and anti-social behaviour.

By James Robinson
Wednesday, 13th July 2022, 2:41 pm
Bellway's Tiny Forests project includes giving over land it owns in Ponteland to create a woodland space, but concerns have been raised by residents and Ponteland Town Council. Picture at the site from March (Will Walker/North News).
Bellway's Tiny Forests project includes giving over land it owns in Ponteland to create a woodland space, but concerns have been raised by residents and Ponteland Town Council. Picture at the site from March (Will Walker/North News).

Housing developer Bellway Homes applied for a change of use from agricultural land in a field north of Eland Lane in Ponteland to forestry and community education, which would include the planting of trees and the creation of a “planting amphitheatre”.

The company said the development would “be used as a space to develop knowledge and skills on tree planting, forest management, collecting and recording of environmental data, citizen science, and can be used as a tool to raise awareness of climate change,” – but local residents and Ponteland Town Council both objected to the plan.

The town council cited a lack of information to assess the “purpose and value” of the development and raised concerns about safety, vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of Castle Morpeth Local Area Council, Ponteland resident Chris Jackson was angered that Bellway had already begun development on the site. He said it was “incomprehensible” that the developer had started without planning permission and added: “No local bodies were consulted.

“There has been no engagement with local education and community groups. Reasonable objections have not been answered.”

Council planners pointed out that the work undertaken so far fell under permitted development – work that does not require planning permission – and the application was simply for a change of use that would allow the site to be used for educational purposes more than 28 days a year.

Coun Richard Dodd, who represents the Ponteland North ward, was against the plan and attempted to propose refusal despite planning officers recommending permission be granted – but could not find a specific planning reason to base the refusal on.

Coun Dodd said: “I believe we are being conned into something here.

“I think we’re being taken for fools. I am a farmer, I plant trees and chop them down and I can’t see the point unless we’re totally blind to something.

“Anti-social behaviour is rife in Ponteland. Kids have been trying to light fires and there’s lots of rubbish – it is a problem. It’s been there a long time and this would encourage it.”

Councillors voted on a motion to approve the plans, which resulted in a tie. The chair of the meeting, Coun Julie Foster, reluctantly approved the plan and said she could not see any planning reason to refuse permission.

The decision led to anger from Ponteland residents who attended the meeting, with one branding the decision “outrageous” as they left the chamber.

Bellway have since moved to defend the plan, pointing out that the site is on a flood plain and could not be further developed. In addition, some schools have already used the site for educational purposes, with Ponteland High and the Percy Hedley Foundation attending planting days.

A spokesman for Bellway Homes said: “The Tiny Forests project is one of the first projects we have undertaken.

“As the Tiny Forest matures, it will attract a wide range of species and provide enjoyment for the local community.

“We are using this trial as a benchmark with a view to creating similar Tiny Forests across developments, providing vital biodiversity on or near our sites.”