‘It’s ambitious, but I think it’s deliverable’

Planning applications before Northumberland County Council.

Planning applications before Northumberland County Council.

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The county council has signed off the final draft of a key document, which will dictate how Northumberland develops in the years to come.

The pre-submission draft of the core strategy, which sets out the council’s priorities for the future, including the creation of 10,000 jobs by 2031 and extending choice in the housing market, was approved by the authority’s cabinet today. It will now go back out for consultation with residents.

The Northumberland Local Plan, as it’s known, provides policies to control where development should take place, sitting beneath the Government’s overarching National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and above the more local Neighbourhood Plans, which are being developed by many communities.

At this morning’s meeting, Coun Allan Hepple, cabinet member for economic growth, said: “If we want Northumberland to prosper, we need more jobs, we need more residents of working age to fill those jobs and we need more choice in the housing market. Without economic growth, jobs growth and housing growth, it might mean many of our communities become unsustainable and I don’t wnat to see that happen.”

He also paid tribute to the hard work of all of the officers involved in putting the lengthy document together, adding that the plan doesn’t just look at Northumberland in isolation, but ‘fits into the wider regional growth context of the North East’.

The council’s head of planning and housing, Karen Ledger, echoed Coun Hepple’s thanks for the work put in and emphasised that the core strategy was now at ‘a very important stage’ ahead of its formal submission to Government, However, she feels that it’s ‘a very robust document’ with ‘a very robust evidence base’.

Conservative group leader, Coun Peter Jackson, was the only cabinet member to vote against the draft, referring to several issues.

He said that while the south of England was in severe need of housing development, the same was not true in Northumberland and expressed concerns about the proposed numbers of homes to be built in Northumberland up to 2031 (now around 24,000).

In terms of economic growth, he said there had been ‘a lot of talk’ about the 10,000 jobs figure, adding: “Some poeple are of the mistaken belief that economic growth is created solely by housing, but we need the industry first. I think we are doing it the wrong way round.”

Coun Jackson also criticised the plan’s focus on development in the main towns and service centres. “I have never been happy with that. Development should be spread throughout Northumberland more evenly.”

Coun Hepple responded by saying: “You don’t want Northumberland to grow and prosper and you seem to be out of sync with your own Government’s aspirations.” Coun Jackson, of course, denied that this was the case.

Consultation will start on Wednesday, October 14. This is a statutory consultation and all comments and feedback must be received by Wednesday, November 25.

A leaflet will be posted through every door in the county explaining the consultation and how to have your say. Twenty-three drop-in events have been arranged right across Northumberland, where residents will be able to find out more and ask questions of council officers.

The full draft strategy, all of the evidence work that supports it and feedback forms will be available on the council’s website from October 14.

Following this consutaiton, it is expected that the core strategy will be submitted to Government in March 2016, with the examination taking place during that summer. The plan could then be adopted in autumn 2016.