County council ‘has ignored us’

A group of residents who live in the Stannington Parish area have lodged a formal complaint against Northumberland County Council.

Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 4:17 pm
The Drive is described by the Netherton Park Residents’ Association as ‘a beautiful tree-lined avenue’.

The document from the Netherton Park Residents’ Association (NPRA) includes the following statement: ‘The development at Netherton Park is a major one in terms of the implications for current residents and road users, and the questions and concerns regarding dangers to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists have been, on the face of it, ignored’.

The development referred to is Bellway Homes’ reserved matters application for 85 new homes at Netherton Park, which was unanimously approved at last month’s meeting of the county council’s Castle Morpeth Local Area Council committee.

The site was formerly used for children’s residential accommodation and the properties will wrap around the Kyloe House secure unit – which remains operational – to the north and the east.

The proposals were recommended for approval, but had sparked objections from the NPRA, Stannington Parish Council and 30 neighbours that included safety and access concerns.

The formal complaint includes ‘approval processes and conduct and the way in which the NPRA has been treated by the council’.

A statement by the association said: “We are disappointed and frustrated at the outcome of the planning meeting, but also shocked and angry at the way in which it was conducted.

“A number of councillors recused themselves from the meeting on the basis of having an interest. No-one then really wanted to take control of the meeting, so there was no organisation.

“Following the planning officer's presentation, the NPRA statement and that of the Stannington Parish Council were read out, not particularly professionally, and then the meeting ‘opened up’.

“However, at that point no-one had any questions, although several had been asked by us and the Stannington Parish Council in the two objecting statements, and no-one had any comments to make.

“There was no discussion and no debate. The recommendation of the planning officer was supported – that bit of the meeting probably took a minute.

“A number of residents have watched the proceedings on YouTube and have been both astonished and alarmed at the lack of courtesy, lack of consideration of the issues, lack of engagement and debate.

“We believe we have consistently asked legitimate questions and raised important issues regarding safety, access and the impact of the development on the Drive.

“We have done this on a number of occasions in a professional, evidence-based and courteous way, but have yet to have a proper response to the substantive issues we have presented.”

The questions that the association says have so far not been responded to in a proper way by county council officers include ‘Why was such a major decision not to widen the access road and pavement taken under delegated powers rather than full scrutiny by committee?’, Why was ‘insufficient land available’ in 2019? Why did it take five years to determine this? Is the decision simply a cost issue?’ and ‘Will the council categorically state there are no safety issues associated with the access arrangement?’.

As well as the official objections, the NPRA sent a lobbying letter to each member of the committee before the meeting to highlight their main concerns.

This included the following: ‘We believe that the access road and pathway are far too narrow to service the proposed development alongside the existing properties and other users.

‘Safety is being compromised to an unacceptable level and we feel that our legitimate concerns are being rejected on a planning technicality rather than a proper appraisal of the facts.

‘We think land is available to widen the road but this has not been pursued as an option.

‘One of the major impacts on the site will be on the Drive as it is transformed into the main access route into the new development.

‘The Drive is a beautiful tree-lined avenue that has been there since the 1890s at least .

‘The loss of trees will have a devastating effect on the nature of this avenue and the vague offer of tree planting of ‘up to’ 20 replacement trees, as it stands, is a very poor substitute indeed.

‘It is not clear how this aligns with the Stannington Parish Neighbourhood Plan which states that ‘Development proposals will be expected, where relevant, to demonstrate how they will respect the context of the site and its surroundings, rural character, historic setting and context’.’

At last month’s meeting, a statement by the landowner – the Netherton Park trustees – said that the proceeds of the sale will help disadvantaged youngsters in the county ‘for many years to come’.

As part of the approval, 30 per cent of the proceeds will be handed over to the county council for buying and leasing residential properties for children’s homes.

A county council spokesman said: “We have received the comments of the group. We are considering these and will be responding to them.”