Green Belt is a tale of two communities

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A NEW Green Belt could be wrapped around Morpeth, but Ponteland may lose protection.

The proposals will be put to public consultation later this month as part of Northumberland County Council’s Core Strategy options.

The authority says that it is vital that more housing is built in the county to bring in new families and re-balance the ageing population, which will ensure a future labour force for business investment in the area.

But the council is also keen to focus development on the main towns and service centres, and it has warned that existing Green Belt boundaries may have to change to accommodate growth.

However, in Morpeth, which currently has no such protection, Green Belt is proposed to preserve its setting and character and prevent the town from merging with neighbouring settlements.

It is suggested that Green Belt could be drawn tightly around the eastern and western boundaries, and to the south of the town it would allow some ‘limited, long-term development potential’, but ensure separation from Clifton and Hepscott.

The preferred option for the northern boundary would allow for development to take place around the proposed Morpeth Northern Bypass, including on land at St George’s and Northgate hospitals.

In Ponteland it is a different story as the council is proposing to take land out of the Green Belt, paving the way for development.

A report to the authority’s Communities and Place Overview and Scrutiny Committee this week states: “In order to deliver the economic and housing development required to deliver the preferred strategy, Hexham, Prudhoe and Ponteland will require land to be deleted from the Green Belt. Feedback on general locations will be sought through the consultation.”

The suggestion has been met with outcry in the community, where there is already fierce opposition to an application for 280 houses in the Green Belt.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman, whose constituency covers the area, said: “Myself and the local councillors in Ponteland are strongly against any changes to the Ponteland Green Belt.

“I have never known a campaign that has been more robustly fought by so many people in the Ponteland area. They have my full support and although I couldn’t be at a public meeting in Ponteland because I am in Westminster, I know that the councillors will be there to show how strong the local feeling is that the county council cannot take away the Green Belt that makes Ponteland what it is.”

Ponteland Mayor Peter Cowey added: “It is going to cause uproar if they start deleting some of the Green Belt. The majority of opinion from the residents I have spoken to is that they are against any reduction in the Green Belt in any shape or form.

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“I will have to look into this and take it up with the county councillors.”

Meanwhile, the Green Belt proposals for Morpeth have been given a cautious welcome.

County councillor Glen Sanderson, who represents areas to both the north and south of the town, said: “I think this is good news. Hopefully, it will provide a further weapon in the armoury to stop unwanted development and reflect the wishes of the people who live in and around Morpeth.

“I don’t know if I would whole-heartedly welcome it yet because I’m not sure how it will end up, but I will give a cautious welcome because it is an extra tool that the planners need.”

Town councillor Nic Best, who is Deputy Chairman of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan steering group, said policies over the last 20 years have suggested there should be a Green Belt in place, but until now there has been no Local Plan to support it.

“It is brilliant that Morpeth will be getting Green Belt around it in the process of keeping the settlement separate from Mitford, Hepscott, Hebron and Pegswood,” he said.

“By having the Green Belt it means that the focus will be centred on Morpeth, rather than spreading out into the rural areas.

“We certainly need the Green Belt, it is a question of where the boundaries go.”

Consultation on the proposals, including housing numbers and employment land needs, is expected to run for nine weeks from Thursday, October 31.

A county council spokeswoman said: “Work on the consultation document is still ongoing, with the housing numbers and other information still being finalised.

“The aim of the consultation process is to allow everyone to have their say on some of these proposed changes, which are vital to the future of Northumberland. Through the Local Plan we want to ensure that Northumberland has the right amount of development in the right places to help it thrive economically, while still protecting all that is special about this county.”

She added: “Later this month, we will be releasing the detailed proposals and we would encourage everyone to look at them and the evidence gathered to support them. There will be plenty of time to make your views known and we want to talk to as many people as possible.”