Village still divided over homes decision

editorial image

HOTLY-DISPUTED plans to build luxury homes in a north Northumberland seaside village have been thrown out by councillors.

The applications from the Beadnell Harbour Fishermen’s Society – for one, four-bedroom detached house at White Rock and two, four-bedroom detached properties at The Haven, as well as listed building consent – were rejected by majority verdicts at Northumberland County Council’s area planning committee north last Wednesday.

The Society said the scheme would generate much-needed money to fund the maintenance of Beadnell Harbour and the proposal was put forward as an exceptional case for maintaining a future sustainable operation of the harbour.

Planning officers had recommended the applications be approved, although this was subject to a section 106 agreement which would ensure ‘that the financial proceeds arising from this development secure the future upkeep and dredging of the harbour’ as well as the conservation of various historical artefacts, including the Grade II-listed bark pots at The Haven site.

But the scheme came in for criticism from some councillors, including the impact the properties would have on an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and that the exceptional case for the need for development had not been proved.

Peter Rutherford, the county council’s north area development manager, told the meeting that county council officers had only seen a ‘very rudimentary draft’ of the required section 106 agreement and there was still a ‘considerable amount of work’ to be done to put it in ‘a form that is fit for purpose’.

He did say though that, if members wanted to approve the scheme, the transparency and context of the section 106 agreement could be brought back to committee.

The county council’s solicitor Peter Bracken also claimed the Society was not prepared to put the money raised into a trust fund held by the council, which he said had raised concerns about the mechanisms to make sure the cash would remain for the harbour.

Coun Gordon Castle said that the section 106 agreement was a key part of the applications and said that until it was ironed out he could not support the Society’s bid.

“The only reason we are considering this is because of the case (of exceptional need) brought forward by the Fishermen’s Society and the section 106 is part and parcel of the case. The section 106 is essential, it is bound up in the case. Until that has been established I can not support this.”

Coun Anthony Murray was also against the scheme, saying that both applications would be ‘unacceptable’ developments in an AONB and would be ‘detrimental to this area of coastline’.

The news was welcomed by the scores of objectors who packed into the meeting at Alnwick.

The meeting heard that the scheme had divided the village. Coun Pat Scott admitted it had fuelled ‘bad feeling’ and she hoped that a line could be drawn ‘under what has been a very difficult time for everybody’.

A petition against the project had attracted more than 2,500 signatures from residents and visitors while the county council had received a flood of objection letters against the applications at both sites.

Of the many concerns raised, opponents cited the impact on the AONB and that the exceptional case, namely the future of the harbour, had not been proved sufficiently. They also claimed there were other ways to fund the upkeep of the facility.

James Williamson, vice-chairman of the Save Beadnell Association, said: “The Save Beadnell Association made proposals to the Society and made a list of different ways of raising funds but these suggestions were rejected out of hand.”

He said that a community interest company could be set up which would safeguard the harbour in perpetuity and guarantee the fishermen continued use of the facility, as well as benefiting the community and preventing ‘the destruction of our beautiful coastline’.

He said that the exceptional case had not been made public and described it as ‘a sham’. He said the Society had not explored other alternatives to raise the money.

But the Society hit back, saying that the housing scheme was the ‘only viable option’ and would provide funds to protect the future of the harbour for around three decades.

A report to members said that the Society has struggled to carry out adequate work on the harbour over the last few years and it has investigated and applied for a number of grants to assist in the upkeep of the harbour but was unsuccessful.

John Wall, Society secretary, admitted that the community had previously come together to raise more than £30,000 for the harbour but said that the public appeal ‘only really scratched the surface of what is necessary’ and that if something happened to the harbour’s inner wall, substantial funding would be needed.

John Swanson, director of developer Country Life, said that the applications were a ‘long-time in the making’, had been ‘thoroughly thought through’ and that the number of homes planned for The Haven site had been reduced from four to two.

“Clearly the reduction in the number of houses impacts on the Society but the anticipated financial benefits to them are still considerable and will protect the future of the harbour for the next 30 years.”

He said that long-term grant funding ‘simply wasn’t available’ and the housing scheme was a ‘creditable alternative’.

Mr Wall also refuted claims made by Mr Bracken and said that the Society had been misrepresented.

He said that he thought the section 106 agreement had been agreed and told the meeting that members of the Society could not touch the money and it would remain charged through a treasury account to the harbour.

He added that while the Society’s financial enabling argument was confidential, it was detailed and had been verified by the county council’s director of corporate finance.