Development has villagers up in arms

PLANS for a major extension to a countryside ‘business village’ will go before councillors tonight.

Bellway Homes is seeking permission to build 73 houses on land to the rear of St Mary’s Hospital site in Stannington as an extension to a large residential and commercial development, including 172 homes, that was approved in 2007.

The applicant says that the whole project could be put at risk if the extra properties are not allowed as they will generate the funding required for the commercial element of the scheme, which will include a gastropub, workshops, food production units, horticultural businesses, offices and a community centre.

However, Stannington Parish Council has objected to the new element, saying the cumulative impact of other developments, such as the Whitehouse Farm Centre, a riding centre and the original St Mary’s plans, should be taken into account as they are putting too much pressure on the nearby hamlet of Glororum.

There are also concerns about road safety due to the expected increase in traffic on narrow country roads, and members say the proposal is for a greenfield site.

Four objections have been submitted by locals, including one from Helen Brown, of Glororum Farm.

She said: “The traffic from the construction vehicles is bad enough and now Bellway is applying for a further 73 houses in addition to the ones it is already building. If they give permission for this we will not only get the extra construction traffic, but there will be all the extra traffic when the families move in.

“We are living in the middle of a rat-run at the moment, but the council just seems to be adding more and more traffic by approving these things. The Whitehouse Farm traffic comes through and we get quite a lot of traffic going to Ponteland and Whalton.

“The problem is the road is just not suitable and it is breaking up all over the place.

“During half-term week we had 10 wagons per hour coming through, about 90 a day going up the road and down the road, while Whitehouse Farm was also very busy.

“The visitors are not familiar with the road and there is no room so when one of these big lorries comes round a blind corner it is quite scary.

“There are two passing places towards the junction for Tranwell, but there is nowhere after people come through the farm, the road is hedge to hedge. People don’t know what the passing places are there for and a lot of them will park in them thinking they’re a layby so you often can’t use them anyway.

“We’re also not far from Tranwell Woods, where there is a lot of construction work going on, so we’re getting it from all sides. We keep getting more and more traffic put through us and no one is monitoring it.”

Mrs Brown is also concerned that the commercial aspect of the approved scheme will not materialise, leaving just a large housing estate in the countryside, with no facilities.

She added: “The argument that was put across in the last public inquiry was that the development will generate no more traffic than when the hospital was at full capacity, but 20, 30 and 40 years ago, people didn’t have cars. There was a bus stop and people would walk to work.

“When I first used to come to Glororum 30 years ago there were so few vehicles coming through that we used to note the number plate if anything came past because no vehicles came on the road unless they were farm traffic.

“The road now is used by cyclists, pedestrians, horse riders and dog walkers. All of these people think they are coming along a country lane and if a great big HGV comes along the road there is nowhere to go. It only takes one vehicle to kill somebody.”

However, highways officers are not objecting to the development and a report by council planners is recommending approval of the application.

Officers say that while the scheme appears contrary to national, regional and local policies, the benefits of facilitating the completion of the original mixed use development may be considered exceptional circumstances.

They say it will complement the approved development planned for the site, diversify the housing mix, maximise energy efficiency and will have no adverse impact on highway safety, the natural environment, protected species, or the surrounding landscape.

The report also states that while the site is considered greenfield, it should not place a restriction on development.

A Bellway spokesman said: “This is a great opportunity to return a redundant site back to community use.

“It will kick-start the commercial aspects of the development and it could provide employment opportunities.”

The application will be considered by Northumberland County Council’s North Area Planning Committee tonight.