Ponteland residents and a leading councillor have strongly criticised Northumberland County Council’s administration for maintaining its ‘excessive’ target for new housing in a key planning document.
On Tuesday, a consultation period for major modifications to the core strategy was agreed at a cabinet meeting.
The authority has acknowledged that issues in Ponteland need to be resolved before revised detailed proposals can come forward, particularly once a final decision is made on plans for all but one of the schools in the area to move to a two-tier system.
A supplementary planning document for Ponteland will be put together and it will be the subject of a separate consultation exercise in the autumn.
But the proposed housing numbers have remained the same, as has the proposal to remove a section of green belt at the south east of the parish area for future development.
Meanwhile, the former leader of the county council has spoken of his disbelief that a controversial site near Lancaster Park in Morpeth has been allocated for employment just a week after the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, which was put together with no knowledge of this change, came into effect.
The vast majority of Ponteland residents that responded to core strategy consultations stressed that they did not want any of the green belt in the area to be deleted.
A spokesman for the Ponteland Green Belt Group said: “The ‘major modifications’ to the core strategy is simply a return to the original pre-determined plans.
“Those proposals were, and continue to be, based on excessively flawed assumptions. It is further evidence that the county council will pursue its own agenda no matter the views of the residents or the limitations of our infrastructure – why consult if you are not going to listen?
“The schools consultation, which will run concurrent to the modification consultation, is its attempt to muddy the waters; an attempt to justify an excessive housing allocation for Ponteland.”
At the cabinet meeting, Conservative group leader Peter Jackson said the major modifications process was an ideal opportunity to lower the 24,320 target for the number of new homes before the end of 2031.
He said the report by Edge Analytics for the council on household projections goes back to data from five and eight years ago, but the authority should be using the most recent statistics with information from 2014.
Coun Jackson added: “By using this data as the baseline to work from, the new housing total should be no more than 16,000 and this means there is no need to delete any of Northumberland’s green belt.
“You need to focus on what creates economic growth. You need to create jobs first and the houses will follow.”
Deputy leader of the Labour administration, Coun Dave Ledger, said: “We’ve had to cope with the Government constantly changing the rules during this process. Its targets for housing are stringent and we have to abide by them.
“If we have got it wrong, the independent inspector will tell us that we have got it wrong.”
Coun Ian Swithenbank added that if the council cannot demonstrate a suitable five-year supply of housing land, it could end up losing planning appeals, so simply reducing the housing numbers has risks.
Liberal Democrat group leader Jeff Reid spoke about the employment allocation for the land near Lancaster Park.
Residents believe that if this is included in the core strategy, Mitford Estate will definitely get approval for the commercial part of its development.
Coun Reid said: “What I can’t understand is that we sat here a couple of weeks ago and made the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, and a week later it’s destroyed by this major modifications document.
“A flag could have been raised before we made the decision on the neighbourhood plan to inform us that such a significant change was being proposed.”
The Morpeth North Residents Action Group was formed in response to Mitford Estate’s plans for the site.
A spokesman for the group said: “We don’t want to stand in the way of progress at all.
“However, we do not expect elected politicians to single out wealthy landowners for their support.”
Consultation will take place between June 15 and July 27, with comments able to be made on the major modifications only. There will be a specific consultation event in Morpeth on July 6, from 2pm to 7pm.