Talking Point: Building a new plan for housing needs

Ponteland Green Belt Group opposed three plans for housing development.
Ponteland Green Belt Group opposed three plans for housing development.

IT was a county-wide plan designed to shape the Northumberland of tomorrow.

The Local Plan Core Strategy was an extensive document designed to assess the housing needs of the county, as well as make projections for employment and strategic land use.

But the document recommended large-scale development in Tynedale, with 900 houses earmarked for Hexham, including 600 on green belt land.

Last week, the concerns of residents and local councillors about overdevelopment, and the ability of local communities to cope with additional housing, were recognised by Northumberland County Council.

The authority's newly-appointed Conservative administration opted to rip up the Core Strategy document, and start again.

Over the coming months, the plan will be withdrawn and resubmitted to Government following a wholesale review.

Conservative leader Peter Jackson said the new ruling group had inherited a plan which was not representative of housing needs across the whole of Northumberland.

Speaking at last week's full council meeting at County Hall in Morpeth, Coun. Jackson said: "Communities are really feeling that there has been no infrastructure planning.

"It has been about numbers in this spurious plan, that housing means economic growth."

Coun. Jackson said it was high time for a fresh assessment of housing needs, based on responses received from residents across Northumberland.

He added: "Our aim is simple - to ensure these plans begin life as they should - with an honest assessment of how much housing is required.

"I do not believe we have had that, and now we need this review."

Opposition councillors warned that reviewing the Core Strategy could take two years, and said that the absence of a housing policy would leave the county exposed to opportunistic planning applications from developers.

But Coun. Jackson insisted that the review would only take months.

He added: "To think we have got to this stage without taking advice is wrong.

"We have had involved conversation with the Department for Local Communities, we've received legal advice, and we are doing this properly.

"We have a duty to produce a Core Strategy which is fit for purpose.

"To say that there is no protection is over egging the pudding somewhat.

"For clarity, we need to say that the green belt stays as green belt."

Lib Dem Leader Jeff Reid disagreed, and described Coun. Jackson's plan as a distant dream.

He added: "I totally understand what you are aiming for, and I understand the purpose of this motion.

"But this is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. This is an absolute mistake."

Coun. Ian Swithenbank, of Cramlington East, urged the council to defer the decision on withdrawing the Core Strategy until September, and in the meantime, seek advice from the Government.

He said: "The suggested course of action involves risk. Do you need to take a risk when you can defer this decision?

"You are indulging in risk and you do not need to. This is a macho approach."

But Coun. Swithenbank's suggestion, and a similar proposal by Labour leader Grant Davey, were rejected by the council, which voted in favour of the Conservative plan.

Coun. Derek Kennedy, who represents Hexham West, said: "We are leaving a legacy here for the whole of Northumberland.

"My ward consists of 1,600 homes. This plan was going to add another 600 homes to my ward.

"I welcome this plan being pulled and started again. There is work to be done.

"Let's look at an evolutionary approach. We need an employment strategy that matches the housing strategy, the infrastructure, and so on."

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