Inquiry is told garden suburb is the way ahead

The Lugano team at the public inquiry, including barrister David Cooper (left).
The Lugano team at the public inquiry, including barrister David Cooper (left).

A proposed Ponteland housing estate would be a role model for garden suburb developments, it has been claimed.

In the final days of a public inquiry, which was set up after Lugano Group’s plans for up to 280 homes and other facilities on a site at Birney Hill were rejected by Northumberland County Council, the company presented its case to planning inspector John Gray.

It put forward experts for various subjects and they said why they believe the aspect of the scheme they were asked to examine constitutes very special circumstances for building properties in the green belt.

Among this number was Farrells partner Gary Young, who has 35 years of experience as an architect. He led the masterplan design team for the project.

As well as the housing, the site would include a farm shop and cafe, and a small office space for local businesses. For the community, there would be 500sq m of floor space that could be used for a range of activities.

Out of the 82.4-hectares in total, nearly 38 hectares are proposed to be retained for agricultural use and be managed as part of a Community Land Trust.

In addition, 17.9 hectares of on-site public open space is proposed along with children’s play areas, a kitchen garden, community orchard and areas of allotment land.

Mr Young said: “The concept for the Birney Hill site is a landscape-led approach for a high-quality sustainable housing development.

“The masterplan uses the garden city principle for place-making and creates a good relationship between the existing context and proposed development.

“Our proposed design does cross a limited number of field boundaries, however this is a well considered approach which retains the main sub-divisions of the field pattern, enhances the highest landscape and habitat value in hedges and trees in the field boundaries and creates a very high quality of intimate residential neighbourhood.

“The proposed development has been located in the mid part of a sloping site with separated clusters of development and significant perimeter landscape screening in order to protect the openness of the landscape character and views into and across the site.

“In conclusion, the scheme will be a truly exceptional design – a national exemplar in design quality, energy efficiency and garden suburb design principles.”

He added that the open landscape between the clusters would retain long views to the Cheviots, there would be access routes for a bus to travel through the site and the clusters would be linked by pedestrian and cycle routes. These would connect with existing roads, paths and cycle ways.

During cross examination, Simon Pickles (the barrister representing the county council) asked: “Why doesn’t there exist a draft set of design principles that it would be sensible to presume will come forward if the development receives planning permission?”

Mr Young responded by saying that the Design and Access Statement is “quite extensive” in its description of the types of housing proposed and the standards they would meet.

Lugano has put forward a number of community benefits that it believes should be taken into account.

They include financial contributions towards affordable housing off-site, a Ponteland travel plan with the Sustrans organisation, a Ponteland centre traffic management plan, improvements to school and leisure facilities and a community fund for the area.

One of the other experts put forward by Lugano was Bridget Rosewell, who has 30 years of experience in matters of economic development.

She said that the scheme would be an “essential component” in the revival of the North East’s economy.

“Good quality housing contributes to the quality of a place, which attracts people to live there and businesses to invest and locate,” she added.

“These people and businesses in turn innovate and all of these factors, along with connectivity, contribute towards economic competitiveness and success.

“Economically productive people are being deterred from locating in the North East. This site can deliver the kind of housing that these people want to live in, in a place they want to live.

“Ponteland is an example of a success story in Northumberland and the proposal at Birney Hill can make it even better through sensitive design and by creating a place that fits with and enhances the existing area.

“There is a shortage of new housing being delivered and a shortage of land on which to deliver new housing. In addition, it is clear that green belt land is required to deliver new housing. This is evident not just in Northumberland, but country-wide.

“This location is unrivalled in its nearness to other good housing, Newcastle International Airport and its planned business park and central Newcastle.

“I therefore judge that very special circumstances exist to justify this proposed development at Birney Hill.”

Both Northumberland County Council and the Ponteland Greenbelt Group have said there is a supply of executive homes in Darras Hall that have been on the market for a number of months.

Ms Rosewell said in response that the scheme would provide the homeowners with attractive landscape amenity space, which is not available with the housing for sale in Darras Hall.