Delight at refusal of homes proposal

CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed the decision to turn down a bid for up to 280 new homes in Ponteland’s green belt.

Lugano Group’s outline proposal for a site at Birney Hill was refused by the county council’s west area planning committee at a meeting in Hexham last week.

The Ponteland Greenbelt Group is leading the fight against this application.

As well as the loss of land in the open countryside, its other concerns include the extra traffic which would result from an influx of families, increased pressure on the existing village infrastructure and potential flooding implications.

Chairman Alma Dunigan said: “Our group, supporters and the whole of Ponteland are delighted with the decision of the committee to uphold the planning officers’ recommendation to refuse the application.

“The reasons for our objections are to preserve the green belt, it’s never about who the developers are.

“The decision sends out a clear message to any other developer who is thinking of submitting planning applications on designated green belt.

“Land is precious and we need to use it wisely. Look at brownfield sites, existing run-down buildings and vacant properties.

“Let’s deal with these first and put them back into good use – that way we can keep Ponteland’s character.”

In response to the refusal, a Lugano spokesman said: “We will be pursuing an appeal against the council’s decision, which we believe to be flawed in many respects.

“While there are several technical issues which can be resolved (indeed some already have been), the facts remain the same.

“There is an acute shortage of housing; the council has acknowledged the need for green belt release and the authority does not have a five-year supply of housing land.

“Our scheme is of high quality and low density and was formulated in direct response to feedback from the local community. It offered over £13million in direct contributions to local infrastructure and priorities, as well as considerable job creation and a significant proportion of affordable homes.

“While it is regrettable that our proposals have not been supported at this stage, we are confident of success at appeal.”

There has also been some political reaction to the news.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman, whose constituency includes Ponteland, said: “The planning committee made the right decision in rejecting this application.

“Whatever the minor merits or otherwise of the scheme itself, the key factor was that this was a green belt site in open countryside.

“The green belt is not some obscure planning condition, it is a fundamental protection of the wonderful countryside which has been here for hundreds and thousands of years.

“Lugano has blown it. With the rejection of Birney Hill and none of its sites being included in the county council’s draft housing plan, it has played a £25million gamble and lost.”

Ponteland South county councillor Peter Jackson added: “The reaction on behalf of residents is one of relief.

“The green belt was put in place to prevent urban sprawl and keep the existing community in place and we will always fight to protect it.

“I would hope that Lugano realises that Birney Hill is not a sensible or sustainable site for such a development and it would be wasting its time by taking this to appeal.”

Ponteland Civic Society Chairman Philip Ham said: “Like most people in Ponteland we want to preserve our green belt, but we do realise that, at some stage in the future, some of it may have to be sacrificed for more housing — particularly affordable housing.

“We do think, however, that the citizens should be the ones who determine where that should be through the Neighbourhood Plan, rather than developers imposing something upon us.”