Ambitious figures call Plan into question

A long-awaited development plan for Northumberland could be heading back to the drawing board over ambitious housing and job figures.

Concerns have been raised that Northumberland County Council’s Draft Core Strategy, which will set out planning policies for the next 15 years, may have to be seriously reviewed after a similar plan for Durham was slammed by an inspector.

The County Durham Plan has been submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for the necessary independent examination before adoption to ensure it is robust.

But an interim report by Inspector Harold Stephens has branded it ‘unsound’ and called for urgent revision, or the withdrawal of the plan altogether.

His concerns centre on ‘unrealistic’ assumptions about jobs growth and too high an assessment of future housing needs.

Durham County Council, which serves a population of just over 500,000, was planning for an extra 30,000 jobs and 31,400 new homes by 2030.

In Northumberland, with a population of around 300,000, the Core Strategy envisages 10,000 extra jobs and 23,520 additional homes.

Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Chairman Joan Tebbutt said: “I don’t think the figures are realistic. Our message in the response to the Core Strategy from the Neighbourhood Plan group and Morpeth Town Council is that we have to get these numbers right.

“The Durham report is just an interim one, but in light of that the county council is going to have to look at its figures seriously.”

Coun Tebbutt also said the plans for Morpeth, where a 23 per cent housing growth is envisaged, have much in common with Durham City, where the inspector said there are physical limits to growth, the housing figures were not supported by evidence, and its special character should be respected.

“I consider that Durham is a larger version of Morpeth. The inspector’s comments about the planned growth are very pertinent to Morpeth” she said.

“It is absolutely incumbent upon councils to make sure that they don’t produce figures that are unrealistic.”

Both Morpeth and Ponteland town councils have questioned the growth figures in their responses to the Draft Core Strategy.

Morpeth Town Council says the housing numbers for Northumberland are “excessive and unrealistic”, and says the 2,100 housing allocation for Morpeth is “totally arbitrary and without any justification or evidence-base”. It also points out that while jobs growth is envisaged, there are no strategic employment areas identified in Morpeth.

Ponteland Town Council says that the figures are based on “assumed and averaged data” and population projections have been over-estimated.

And the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is also concerned.

A CPRE spokesman said: “The concern is that Northumberland County Council is using the same people to do the modelling as Durham. CPRE is responding to the Core Strategy saying we need balance and an evidence-based system.

“We hope that Northumberland County Council will review its strategy and the final plan will take this into consideration. At the moment it is taking figures from employment projections and household projections and saying ‘we don’t want to manage the decline, we want growth’, but what happens if the people don’t turn up? We are going to have deletion of Green Belt to build houses that are not needed.”

A spokesman for Northumberland County Council said: “The council is looking closely at the inspector’s interim report on the Durham Local Plan.

“The report, and of course the feedback from the recent Core Strategy consultation, will inform any additional work that is required to update the pre-submission version of the Core Strategy.”