Lugano hits out at council at opening of Ponteland homes inquiry in Northumberland

Developer Lugano hit out at Northumberland County Council at the opening of a public inquiry into its plans for homes on Ponteland green belt

Developers hoping to build hundreds of homes on Northumberland green belt have launched a blistering attack on council bosses at the opening of a public inquiry.

Tyneside based Lugano Developments laid into Northumberland County Council over the time it has taken to put in place its core strategy planning guidance and its failure to ensure the delivery of housing, at the first session of the inquiry into its plans for 280 homes on farmland at Ponteland.

The company also hit out at the council for failing to identify viable green belt sites for development.

Yet the county council and a local action group claimed the developers had failed to prove special circumstances that would override the harm caused by inappropriate development of the green belt.

Lugano is seeking outline planning permission for the development at Birney Hill Farm, with the proposal covering the demolition of some buildings, plus provision of office, retail, educational or community facilities and a community farm.

County councillors refused the application in line with officer advice in 2013 and the company appealed, triggering the inquiry.

At the opening session, the company’s barrister David Cooper said: “There is a significant shortfall in delivery as proposed by the core strategy.

“The matter is so urgent because of the dire figures, it can not wait for the adoption of emerging core strategy which this authority has shown no real urgency in moving forward.

“This authority has had more than ample time to comply with its requirements.

“It is totally unreasonable for them to stop the appeal proposal coming forward when they have no viable alternatives.”

Public meeting at Falcons rugby ground at Kingston park into the possible development at Birney Hill Ponteland. Chair John Grey
Public meeting at Falcons rugby ground at Kingston park into the possible development at Birney Hill Ponteland. Chair John Grey

He also claimed there was a “crisis” in the delivery of housing at county and regional level as a result of which those that can not afford market housing move away.

“It has to be dealt with or the gap between the North East and the South East is going to become like the Atlantic Ocean.”

The county council hit back with its barrister Simon Pickles stating: “The appeal proposal will cause substantial harm so far as the green belt, landscape character and setting of listed buildings are concerned that is not clearly outweighed by other factors such that very special circumstances exist.”

He told the inquiry how each cluster of the scheme would be “equivalent to a small Northumberland village.”

Peter Dixon, barrister for the Ponteland Green Belt Group, echoed the council’s points, stating that the harm to the green belt would be “substantial” and that the special circumstances put forward by Lugano “fall short.”

Lugano’s planning application yielded 4,310 letters of opposition to the county council.

Newcastle International Airport, the Environment Agency, the county council’s strategic housing, conservation, public protection and flood management departments, also objected.

The council was sent 487 letters of support.

Planning inspector John Gray, sitting at Newcastle Falcons’ Kingston Park rugby ground, revealed a decision on the appeal will be made by a government minister based on his recommendation, rather than he determining it himself.

It also emerged that the airport has withdrawn its objection and that Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman is to give evidence to the inquiry in opposition to the application on Thursday.

The inquiry is due to last three weeks.

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