Row rumbles on over withdrawal of plan

County Hall in Morpeth.
County Hall in Morpeth.

Labour has again attacked the Conservative administration in Northumberland over the withdrawal of a key planning document.

It follows the Government’s announcement last week of draft amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the first major shake-up since it was introduced in 2012.

Coun Grant Davey, leader of the Labour group, said: “The Secretary of State, when announcing his new NPPF, is clearly not happy that the new Conservative administration in Northumberland scrapped the emerging Core Strategy and that issue needs investigating independently. I wrote to the CEO of the authority in November and provided her with information which I believe should trigger an investigation and I expect her to act on these matters.

“In terms of the NPPF, it’s also clear that the Conservative Government and Labour opposition recognise the need to build housing to meet the need to grow the Northumberland economy, but Coun Jackson’s decision to scrap the Labour plan has resulted in a developers’ free-for-all with no rules.

“When Coun Jackson scrapped the Core Strategy on July 5, he failed the transparency test and he withheld officer advice which had to be released through Freedom of Information. We need Coun Jackson to come clean and answer the simple question– why was he so desperate to scrap the plan?”

Coun John Riddle, cabinet member for planning, housing and resilience, responded: “The council is committed to producing a sound and deliverable Local Plan for Northumberland as soon as possible and we will have a full single development plan in place in a timescale which is very similar to the two-stage plan set out by the Council’s previous administration.

“Officers are working very hard to produce a plan that is fit for purpose and protects our county well into the future and the reason the previous core strategy was withdrawn was we had no confidence that it would have passed independent examination. We believe our finished plan will leave us in a much stronger position than before.

“Later this month, we’ll be launching a consultation asking people’s views on their preferred locations for housing and employment development. This is the latest step in producing what will be a strong plan for the future.”

Council and Tory leader Peter Jackson added: “The previous administration took many years to produce a plan that was destined to fail at public inspection – for the same reasons as the failed inspection in Durham – as the evidence for their huge increase in housing numbers was lacking. They wanted an open door for developers and the concreting over of hundreds of acres of our valued green belt.

“Their plan failed to address the issue of affordable housing, failed to take into account adequate education provision or indeed to provide for the basic infrastructure for our towns. In fact, the previous council was intent on flooding our main towns with housing while sitting idly by as our rural areas went into further decline.

“It’s a shame Cllr Davey would not listen to reason and the facts then. He may be happy for large green areas of our county to be concreted over and become a dormitory for Newcastle and Gateshead, but the people of Northumberland signalled very clearly in the election that they do not want that.”