John Wilson’s letter in last week’s Gazette about Warkworth’s resistance to Northumberland Estates’ application to build 150 houses in the village, raises an interesting debate about the attitude and behaviour of the Duke’s business arm.
Northumberland Estates owns its land and it is perfectly entitled to apply to build houses, just as it is perfectly entitled to maximise its profits.
However, if housing applications by the Estates were discussed with communities rather than imposed, not just in Warkworth but across the county, then the Estates may find that communities were not necessarily opposed to all their proposals, particularly if some quid-pro-quo benefit was offered as an inducement.
There are far less NIMBY’s around than you might think. However, don’t tell me that the planning process is equitable because we need to be honest from the start; the planning process puts the applicant in the driving seat and the community in the boot.
Where the Estates seems to earn its appalling reputation is the way it approaches communities with so little respect.
With what appears to be a measure of feudalism, it offers its applications with a marked lack of consultation, honesty and to be quite frank, a bit of business competence.
Northumberland Estates is currently a large financially successful North East business.
Because it seems to repeat its behaviour with most of its property applications around the county, it presumably believes it has a good business model of operation.
I am not so sure that is a view shared by the good people lower down the management chain who work for the Estates who are perhaps a bit sick of being reviled by Northumberland residents, particularly when their organisation looks as though it wants to earn a reputation below that of Westminster politicians, bankers or some estate agents.
Northumberland Estates does some great work of which we are all proud, but its development branch seems to be fixed in a century that the rest of us left behind long ago.
It does not have to be that way. Is it possible for the Estates to actually be honest and just simply confirm that their proposals are a perfectly legitimate way of making a profit, instead of trying to justify their developments on the grounds that “…the homes would support local services and be of benefit to the local community”?
That justification suggested by an Estates spokesman two weeks ago just sounds so silly.
Is it possible for the Estates to accept that they are grafting a development onto villages or towns that are actually owned by the residents, not the Estates, and hence some quid-pro-quo benefit is appropriate?
Is it possible for the Estates to treat local communities with some respect and actually talk to the villages before they submit an application rather than offering them as a fait accompli?
In Warkworth’s case, when we are talking about close on 150 homes, is it possible for the Estates to accept, as we all know anyhow, that the postal code of Warkworth is likely to enhance sales, rather than suggesting that we as villagers somehow actually need such a volumous development.