Controversial changes get go-ahead

CONTROVERSIAL changes to plans for a new housing estate in Ponteland have reluctantly been given the green light.

Outline permission was granted by the former Castle Morpeth Council in March 2009 for 150 new homes on part of the Northumbria Police headquarters site.

But it had not been issued because the force could not secure a section 106 agreement with Northumberland County Council officers, which was the main condition attached.

The sticking point was affordable housing, as the Northumbria Police Authority (NPA) believed that 50 per cent of the total scheme was too high in the current financial climate. It put forward an amendment to make this figure 20 per cent (30 homes).

The organisation will use the money raised from the scheme to help fund a £23million modernisation of the headquarters.

Although the county council’s West Area Planning Committee members spoke of their sadness about the situation, they accepted the reduction. Planning officers said in a report that the application could be supported if it meant investment in police services and job retention could be successfully delivered.

The section 106 agreement also involves contributions from the NPA of almost £700,000 towards road, public transport and traffic improvements.

Ponteland’s Deputy Mayor David Butler, who spoke at the meeting on behalf of Ponteland Town Council, said afterwards: “In my speech I tried to persuade the committee that the police should do better than 20 per cent.

“We desperately need affordable housing in Ponteland and going up to 30 per cent (45 of the properties), for example, would have made a difference, so it was rather disappointing that the committee did not agree with us.

“We also said around £700,000 for transport and highways improvements was not enough, ideally this amount would be doubled. But we are grateful to Richard Dodd (Ponteland North county councillor) who made sure planning officers stated categorically that all the money will be spent in the Ponteland area.

“However, it could be years before these homes are built if the financial situation does not improve.”

The police contributions include £300,000 for public transport improvements, £150,000 towards traffic management measures and £240,000 for road improvements.

The initial agreement would also have involved an allocation of £75,000 towards the provision of public art, but the committee felt this amount would be better spent on creating an extra affordable property in the scheme.

It decided to cut this figure and bring the total number of affordable homes up to 31.

The other parts of the proposal are a new 12,000 sq ft office block and an access road.

NPA property advisor Peter Udall said: “The approved planning application for the Ponteland site represents the best possible compromise, delivering affordable housing while still remaining financially viable.

“We are committed to keeping the number of affordable houses as high as possible, but realistically a figure of 20 per cent is the highest that can be delivered in the current financial climate.

“At present we have no indication as to when work on site could start, however we will ensure that local residents are kept fully informed.”