Trust model to build half-price houses

A COMPANY which is planning to build a new housing estate on Green Belt land in Ponteland has unveiled details about how it would make homes more affordable.

Lugano Group says the community land trust model, which removes land cost from house ownership, would mean that the two-bedroomed houses at Birney Hill would cost around £110,000 to £120,000 and three-bedroom properties would be in the region of £130,000 to £140,000.

As a result, the affordable home-buyers would save up to 50 per cent of the market cost for homes of a similar size in the Darras Hall area.

But the mechanics of running this scheme has been questioned by the Ponteland Civic Society, which believes that it would be difficult to set up a trust on this scale without getting a housing association involved.

Residents will be able to comment on this and other detailed plans for the site, located to the south west of the Darras Hall estate, at the next exhibition to be held by the company later in the month. The total number of proposed properties is between 250 and 300.

Hundreds of people in the area have already voiced their concerns about the potential impact of the estate.

They believe that future housing requirements can be met through projects which already have planning permission and brownfield sites.

Under the community land trust model, the householder owns the bricks and mortar and any improvements on the land, such as a garage, but not the plot.

Lugano Director Scott Munro said: “Residents told us that many younger people and families cannot afford to buy or rent homes in Ponteland.

“We propose to offer local people first say on the affordable housing at Birney Hill by putting in place a community land trust, which allows residents or people with family ties to Ponteland to benefit from high quality, low cost houses.

“The trust will select who gets the right to buy a house if an owner sells it and the land discount will always be applied. It is a powerful way to enable generations of families to live close to each other.”

If the group gets planning permission, it envisages building about 30 low cost starter houses, 30 homes for downsizing families or retired people and 30 to 50 self-build plots, as well as larger properties with landscaped gardens.

Ponteland Civic Society Chairman Philip Ham said that managing a community land trust on this scale from scratch would be a tall order.

“Of the 280 dwellings now being proposed by Lugano, the affordable housing requirement would not be just the 30 they have spoken about, but is more likely to be the county council’s requirement of 30 per cent, which is actually 84 dwellings,” he said. “Managing this is a skilled task and a more realistic approach, if the company really means business, would be to get a housing association such as Isos involved.

“There are also a number of drawbacks to the proposed site, quite apart from the fact that it is in the Green Belt outside the settlement boundary.

“As the Loansdean inquiry has shown, the original Castle Morpeth policies about the Green Belt being sacrosanct still apply.

“The site would also have no local facilities to speak of. The nearest shops and schools would be a good mile away along not very friendly roads so we could expect a lot more traffic movements since buses are about as common as hen’s teeth in Ponteland.

“In recent months it has become clear that in heavy rain there is a serious problem of water run-off from this site, which would not be improved by building a new housing estate.

“Until the county council’s Core Strategy has been finalised and formally adopted sometime next year, no one knows what the requirements for housing in Ponteland will be and it is certainly not expected that any encroachment on the Green Belt will be allowed.

“Developers should stop trying to jump the gun and wait until the agreed Local Plan is published. When they seek to fit in with that, they will be more welcome.”

The Birney Hill development exhibition will take place on Saturday, October 27, from 11am to 4pm, at Ponteland Memorial Hall, Darras Road.

For more information about the scheme, visit http://pontelandfutures.co.uk