Braid inquiry necessary

THE revelation (Fury over Braid cash, Gazette, March 3) that the £0.75million received from the sale of part of the Braid in Amble has been ‘lost’ in central Northumberland County Council funds rather than benefiting the town is only part of the story.

What is even more worrying is that the secret deal under which Alnwick District Council agreed to sell land on the Braid to Northumberland Estates for an access road to a supermarket was set up in April 2008, which was before either the Town Green Inquiry (July 2008) or the planning meeting to determine the application (May 2009) had been held.

This was revealed in the reply to a Freedom of Information request from an Amble resident to Northumberland County Council last month which stated: “On April 30, 2008, Alnwick District Council completed an Option Agreement with Northumberland Estates in which they committed to sell the land required to construct an access road. Subsequently, there was no discussion about incorporating this land into the Town Green, as to do so would have left the council open to legal challenge and a potential claim for compensation for frustrating the Agreement.”

Why did the district council enter into such a legally binding agreement with Northumberland Estates several months before the independent planning inspector had chaired the Town Green inquiry?

Shouldn’t they have waited until the results of this inquiry were known? The planning inspector decided in August 2008 that the whole of the Braid should be registered as Town Green, including the land for the access road. This secret deal wasn’t revealed at the inquiry.

Nor was this secret deal revealed when the planning application was put before the north area planning meeting in May 2009.

When Northumberland County Council sought specialist legal advice from a barrister in the autumn of 2008 to question the planning inspector’s decision on the Town Green, wasn’t their real motive to avoid a ‘legal challenge and a potential claim for compensation for frustrating the Agreement’ rather than to clarify points of law with regard to Town Green registration process as the council claimed at the time? Was this secret deal revealed to the specialist barrister who subsequently overturned the planning inspector’s decision on this very piece of land on the Braid, or was he kept in the dark like everybody else?

To make matters worse, when the land was sold to Northumberland Estates in July of last year, it wasn’t advertised, put out to tender to get the best price or offered back to the public to raise the funds. To quote from the Freedom of Information statement again: “The land was not put on the open market as the interest from Northumberland Estates was as a special purchaser.”

One of the complaints regularly made by the public and independent developers is that Northumberland Estates receives special treatment from the council in its planning applications compared with everyone else, as this Freedom of Information statement now seems to confirm.

In the light of these revelations, is it any wonder that many local residents including myself are calling for a public inquiry into the way this planning application and Town Green registration has been handled?

We intend to make more Freedom of Information requests until the full truth of this murky affair has been properly revealed. The full contents of the original Freedom of Information statement can be seen on the website:

Roger Armsden,