Greenbelt group slam council’s proposals

Northumberland County Council has come under fire from a group of Ponteland residents after revealing that it is proposing to delete more than 200 acres of green belt in the area.

The most recent version of the county’s core strategy – its local plan to guide future development up to 2031 – has been unveiled and if agreed by councillors, it will be open for comments and feedback between December 12 and February 11.

The authority has revised its housing figures for individual towns and villages and the number for Ponteland has gone down from the 850 proposed in October 2013 to 640.

But significant additional work to examine green belt areas in various locations has also been carried out and it has earmarked 82 hectares – just over 200 acres – of green belt for deletion in and around Ponteland by 2031.

This includes the area to the south east of Ponteland, north of Rotary Way, which includes the previously developed sites of the Ponteland Leisure Centre and Ponteland High and Middle Schools, to facilitate re-locations and the re-provision of the area’s education and leisure facilities and the re-development of the existing sites for housing and employment uses.

The council is also looking to remove a section to the north of Cheviot View, which should facilitate the delivery of part of a bypass road, the former Police HQ site and some land to the east of it (west of North Road and north of the built-up area of Ponteland).

Although the council says the majority of this land will not be allocated for housing, the Ponteland Greenbelt Group – set up in 2012 to oppose applications within the designated land such as Lugano Group’s outline proposal for up to 280 homes and other facilities on a site at Birney Hill – have criticised the proposals.

Deputy chair Tony Noble said: “The authority’s plans to destroy the rural nature and character of Ponteland have not altered one bit since it began its tick the box consultation exercises two years ago.

“Two core strategy consultations have already taken place, neither of which have included this supposed 56 hectares identified for education and other uses. This has not had any form of public consultation.

“Coun Allan Hepple (policy board member responsible for housing, planning and regeneration) is correct in saying that the draft local plan has had input from the community – what he noticeably neglects to say is that the residents of Ponteland overwhelmingly rejected the need to release green belt land.

“We are not against development, what we have repeatedly told the council is that there are plenty of brownfield sites available.

“The evidence base is simply not there to support any deletion of the green belt and the views of the local community are being totally ignored.

“I feel heartily sorry for those residents of Ponteland who have given up weeks and weeks of their own time to engage with the council’s planning department in a true spirit of co-operation, only for it to throw that trust back into their faces.

“If the authority believes that Ponteland residents will simply roll over on this, it can think again. The proposals have to be approved before an independent planning inspector and we will challenge this at every step of the democratic process.”

The report needs to be endorsed by the county council’s policy board and it will be discussed first by the communities and place overview and scrutiny committee next Tuesday.

Coun Hepple said: “In Northumberland, we are only proposing modest green belt boundary changes and then only when there are exceptional circumstances to justify them – allowing for economic growth and expanding choice in the housing market.

“It is also worth pointing out that almost 70 per cent of the land identified for development in the Ponteland area within the plan period is identified for education, playing fields, leisure and open space.”