Home builder to meet MP over green-belt plans

A NORTHUMBERLAND MP will meet a property developer looking to build homes on Ponteland’s green belt after strongly criticising them in Parliament.

Lugano Group, which recently unveiled plans for 280 properties at Birney Hill to the south west of the Darras Hall estate , was described as ‘taking the community for fools’ by Guy Opperman, who represents Ponteland.

He questioned where it pays its taxes and claimed that the company was hiring up former county council planning officers.

Following his statements, Lugano sent another invitation to have a meeting and this is now set to happen later in the month.

During a debate about UK-listed mining companies, the Hexham MP also voiced his displeasure at Banks Group, which is looking to bring forward a scheme at Clickemin Farm that would see up to 500 new homes built on both sides of the A696, behind Cheviot View up to Rotary Way and also behind Ridgley Drive.

The Ponteland Green Belt Group, which was set up this summer to oppose any development in the green-belt area surrounding the village and Darras Hall, now has hundreds of members and it has made its presence felt at exhibitions organised by both companies.

In Parliament, Mr Opperman said: “A company called Lugano is universally detested for the way that it is buying up huge swathes of land for green-belt development.

“I have no way of finding out who the real owners are, where the profits go or where it pays its taxes.

“Sources tell me that the beneficiary of the trust is a Jewish organisation based in Lugano, Switzerland, and clearly, as a result, it would not be liable for any taxation in this country.

“It certainly has no experience of the sort of development that it is proposing.

“It is totally wrong and it takes the local community for fools.”

He added: “It will be resisted and I am assured that the provisions on the green belt – these proposals all concern the green belt, whether they are for open-cast mining or for housing – are greatly supported, for example, by the comments of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.”

He praised Banks Group for the way it has engaged with the community over its Shotton mine.

But he added: “However, Banks has chosen to diversify and move away from a traditional mining environment into property speculation, with proposals to build houses around the village of Ponteland.

“I cannot express enough my disappointment that a good mining company is attempting to form a cash cow of housing on the green belt.

“Frankly, it should be ashamed of itself.”

Both firms argue that there is not enough brownfield land to accommodate the demands of the county council, so some new homes will have to be built in the green belt. This is disputed by the Ponteland group.

A spokeswoman for Lugano said: “Guy Opperman has now agreed to meet Lugano following his comments in Parliament on Wednesday, November 28.

“We are pleased that he has finally agreed to meet, following several invitations from us this year, to discuss matters face to face with us. We are arranging the meeting for later this month.

“The meeting will provide Mr Opperman with facts about Lugano’s proposals for Birney Hill and the company itself.”

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at Banks Group, said: “We have developed a great number of very successful property schemes across the North East, including Sheraton Park in Durham, Bowesfield in Stockton and Palmersville in North Tyneside, and it is therefore clearly inaccurate to say that our proposed Ponteland Garden Village scheme represents a diversification from our core operations.

“Banks is renowned within the industry for the long-standing development with care approach that we take to all our projects, and having worked in Northumberland for more than three decades we fully understand the character of the area and appreciate the matters that need to be addressed as part of our Ponteland proposals.

“We firmly believe that everyone has a right to the opportunity to live in the place that they wish to be, and over the last six months, we have worked hard to establish an early, open, transparent and meaningful dialogue with the widest possible cross-section of the local community to try to establish how this goal can best be achieved in Ponteland.”

Mr Dowdall added: “We are still in the very early stages of the design process for this development and a planning application remains some distance away, but any scheme that we do put forward will be directly influenced by the comments and ideas we are receiving from local people and would be created in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.”