Reluctant approval for new landscaping plans

Part of the site plan for Guilden Place in Warkworth. Picture from Cussins
Part of the site plan for Guilden Place in Warkworth. Picture from Cussins

New landscaping plans at a Warkworth housing development have been reluctantly approved after ‘an act of environmental vandalism’.

Approval was given for 50 homes, known as Guilden Place, in November 2016. The site, on land south of West Close, off Guilden Road, is currently under construction with some homes being occupied.

But 172 metres of hedge and landscaping was incorrectly removed to the northern boundary of the site, which has been blamed on an error in the plans in that the hedgerow did not actually sit on the boundary as thought.

Northumberland County Council planning officers recommended new planting and changes to the original landscaping condition as the best way ‘of mitigating the loss of the previous vegetation’.

At their meeting last Thursday, members of the North Northumberland Local Area Council agreed, by four votes to two with two abstentions.

Coun Gordon Castle said: “In recommending approval, I do not approve of what has happened, but what’s the alternative?

“I think this is the best we can manage in these most unfortunate circumstances.”

Coun Jeff Watson, who represents Warkworth, added: “We are all disappointed. To be honest, I think Cussins is disappointed, the planners are disappointed and in the middle of all of this, there was a mistake.

“I don’t believe Cussins went out maliciously and took this hedge out, I think they thought they were acting in accordance with the approved plans.

“I’m not happy, I don’t think anyone’s happy, but I think this is the best we can do with a sense of reality.”

But Coun Georgina Hill said: “Planning consultants do advise developers of the ‘oh whoops sorry’ approach and it annoys me. I think this sends a really bad signal to other developers. For that reason, I’m voting against it.”

Earlier in the meeting, two members of Warkworth Parish Council raised their concerns.

Coun Sally Black said the new scheme ‘won’t restore the land to what it was before this act of environmental vandalism’.

“The gentleman who planted this area was rightly proud that it attracted such a range of birds, bugs and butterflies,” she added.

Coun Dr John Hobrough described the application as ‘an attempt to make legal what should not have happened’.

He told councillors: “The easy thing is to approve this, the right thing to do is to use enforcement powers to restore that wildlife corridor.

“Approving this would send two messages – one to the community that you don’t matter and the other to developers is don’t worry, do what you like.”

David Brocklehurst, from Cussins, apologised for what had happened, adding: “We are here to try to find a solution.”

He pointed out that the approved plans had garden boundary fences through the buffer area so it would not have been a continuous wildlife corridor, while the amended scheme does not and is ‘potentially an improvement on what was there before’.

Planning officer Neil Armstrong said that the boundary treatment in this area was an improvement, but overall it was ‘no substitute for keeping the original landscaping’.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service