Victory for green belt campaigners

Pictured are some of the Ponteland Greenbelt Group team celebrating after Lugano Group's appeal over its Birney Hill application was rejected. Picture by Keith Robertson.
Pictured are some of the Ponteland Greenbelt Group team celebrating after Lugano Group's appeal over its Birney Hill application was rejected. Picture by Keith Robertson.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark has today rejected a controversial appeal over plans for a new housing estate on green belt land in Ponteland.

Local MP Guy Opperman welcomed the decision to turn down Lugano Group’s bid for up to 280 homes and other facilities on a site at Birney Hill to the south of the Darras Hall estate and described it as a ‘victory for local democracy’.

Northumberland County Council’s west area planning committee refused the outline proposal in October 2013.

A total of 4,310 objections were submitted and there were 487 letters supporting the scheme.

A public inquiry was set-up following the firm’s appeal. It took place in January at Kingston Park in Newcastle.

The county council defended its decision and its team was led by Simon Pickles. The Ponteland Greenbelt Group, which was set up in 2012 to oppose applications within the designated land, was represented by barrister Peter Dixon.

Mr Opperman said: “The fact that as local campaigners we have been able to fight off theses plans by a multi-million pound developer is a victory for local people and our community.

“It really is a victory for local democracy.

“I have always remained very hopeful that Lugano’s appeal would be thrown out and today those of us who have battled so long and so hard will take a huge sigh of relief.

“There always have been very clear and objective planning grounds on which this application to build on the Ponteland green belt should be rejected.

“We have all worked tirelessly with local campaigners to make representations and I am so pleased our arguments have been listened to by the Secretary of State.”

Ponteland South with Heddon county councillor Peter Jackson added: “The local community here really has united in an extraordinary way – united in a battle against big developers seeking to cash in on our precious green belt.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the campaign we have fought has made all the difference and hopefully protected our community for many years to come.”

As well as the housing, the site would have included a farm shop and cafe and a small office space for local businesses. For the community, there would have been 500sq m of floor space that could have been used for a range of activities.

David Cooper, representing Lugano at the appeal, said the proposal would create an ‘exemplar garden suburb’, 70 of the homes would be classed as affordable and there would be a plethora of benefits to the community as financial contributions would be made towards public transport and traffic management improvements, along with sewerage infrastructure.

Coun Allan Hepple, cabinet member for economic growth at Northumberland County Council, said: “We are extremely pleased with the Secretary of State’s decision to dismiss the appeal and particularly that he agrees with a number of significant elements of the council’s reasons for refusal.

“It is also good to see that he agrees that, if changes are required to the green belt, these should be made through the preparation of the Core Strategy, rather than focusing only on issues of lack of a five-year housing land supply.”

Key areas where the planning inspector who carried out the inquiry, John Gray, agreed with the council’s reasons for refusal of the planning application are as follows:

• Although there is not a five-year housing land supply, the significantly increasing housing land supply was acknowledged as an important consideration;

• The proposed development would harm the landscape character of the area because of the significance of the listed Birney Hall and the views across the site towards the Cheviots;

• Significant weight must be given to preserving the settings of the three listed buildings within the application site;

• Limited weight, if any, should be given to the proposed community benefits, also that it was not clear how the proposed development would contribute to the revitalisation of the North East economy – the provision of executive housing is not seen as a key economic driver;

• That there were a number of constraints to the development in terms of connectivity with Darras Hall and aircraft noise.