Housing bid turned down as committee rules loss of green belt is not justified

COUNTY councillors backed their officers in refusing plans for a new housing estate in Ponteland.

A total of six reasons for refusal were given by the west area planning committee at a meeting held in Hexham last week.

Lugano Group’s outline proposal for up to 280 homes and other facilities on a site at Birney Hill received 4,310 objections and 487 letters of support.

After discussing the application, the committee turned down the bid because members believe it would be inappropriate development in the green belt and the special circumstances cited by the applicant are insufficient to justify building the homes.

They ruled that it would cause demonstrable harm to the landscape character of the open countryside.

They also said that Lugano failed to adequately demonstrate that surface water from the development could be disposed of in a manner which would not increase flood risk elsewhere.

Other reasons given were insufficient information in regard to the likely impact of aircraft noise on the amenity of potential future residents in that area and the archaeological potential of the site.

It was feared that the development would have a negative impact on designated heritage assets such as Birney Hall and a long-standing windmill.

During the planning committee meeting, Lugano development director Richard Robson said: “We believe that the proposed refusal reasons will be very difficult for the council to substantiate at appeal.

“Notwithstanding the cost of the appeal process and missed opportunity to deliver real community benefits, they are by no means robust.

“It is important to stress the key benefits of the application in terms of not only creating much needed houses, affordable homes and jobs, but also the environmental benefits such as provision of much needed public open space and very significant financial contributions to key local infrastructure.

“We acknowledge that the ‘no’ campaign do not agree with green belt release on this or indeed any other site. That is entirely understandable. However, it is equally unrealistic and unsustainable.

“All communities need to grow and develop.

“At one point the Darras Hall Estate did not exist. It had to be designed, planned and developed.”

He added: “We feel Birney Hill represents the next key stage in the responsible and measured evolution of the community.”

Also speaking in support was Charles Sellers, chairman of the Northumberland Business Network.

He said: “From the outset, councillors have allowed this application to become political.

“The county council and its councillors need to start taking decisions about how local communities remain sustainable, the economy prospers and judge this as a planning application.

“Refusing this application means turning down £13million of community trust funding for local regeneration priorities in Ponteland.”

The opposition has been led by the Ponteland Greenbelt Group and chairman Alma Dunigan spoke at the meeting.

“Our infrastructure and community facilities would not be able to cope if the application is approved,” she said.

“The existing road network of Darras Hall and the A696 trunk road is already at capacity at peak times and this development would lead to more traffic going through the centre of Ponteland.”

Liz Thompson, representing Ponteland Town Council, said: “Lugano has not demonstrated any very special circumstances to justify building on the green belt.

“There are existing problems with the site, such as flooding and drainage, which have not been adequately addressed in the application.”

During the discussion among the committee members, Coun Ian Hutchinson raised concerns about a foot and mouth burial pit on the site.

He said that measures would need to be in place if building works do happen to ensure that nothing goes wrong.

Committee Chairman Colin Horncastle said: “There is a lot of merit to the scheme and not everyone is against it.

“However, I think it’s slightly in the wrong place. Going on the site visit showed that there is a real difference between Darras Hall and the open countryside.”