Plans to delete green belt on the edge of a Northumberland town to allow hundreds of homes to be built and jobs to be created would “radically and permanently change the whole nature” of the community, campaigners have claimed.
Northumberland County Council is proposing to delete green belt on the outskirts of Hexham in order to allow the building of 600 homes and employment development.
However, the plans are facing opposition from town residents who say the community does not so many new homes, that allowing businesses to open on its fringe would hit those in the centre, and that its roads, schools and health facilities would struggle to cope.
The council is proposing, as part of its consultation on its core strategy local plan, to delete green belt west of the town, between the B6531 and the B6305.
Yet opposition has been voiced by residents who have set up the Protect Hexham Green Belt action group and an online petition, Hexham Civic Society and county councillor for the town Derek Kennedy.
Group member Colin Richardson, a retired archaeologist who lives at Dukes Road, last night said there is “no requirement for such an expansion on green belt” and that the number of houses proposed is “out of all proportion to the housing needs of the present or future predictions of population growth” of Hexham.
He claimed the plans would have a “devastating impact on the high quality landscape and wildlife habitats of the area” and would “drastically affect the recreational amenities currently enjoyed by both local residents and visitors.”
Mr Richardson added the “whole character of the area would be permanently changed and the rural aspect of the western approach to Hexham would be that of an urban sprawl.”
He furthermore argued the council’s proposals would create “considerable additional pressure on local services including traffic circulation, schools and medical facilities.”
Mr Richardson said it is “totally unacceptable to have retail and industrial outlets on the perimeter of the town taking more trade away from the centre, which has suffered great decline recently with shops and small businesses closing.”
He argued the proposals work “against regeneration of the town centre.”
Mr Richardson claimed the “special setting of the area west of Hexham overlooking the confluence of the North and South Tyne river valleys and close to Chesters Roman fort and the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage site, is of great importance both locally and nationally.”
He added: “The character of this area should not be permanently altered by a large scale urban development.”
Finally, Mr Richardson said: “Hexham has now reached a crucial point in its history, whether it wishes to survive as a historic market town deeply rooted in its natural environment, or submit to further large scale developments of the type proposed.
“Large incursions into the green belt would radically and permanently change the whole nature of the town.”
The council has said that the plans are currently only proposals on which it is seeking feedback. The logic behind them was explained by Karen Ledger, head of development services.
She said: “The information we have gathered shows that for Northumberland to be economically viable into the future we need more homes for working families.
“The proposed housing figures and green belt releases have been developed using detailed evidence that has taken gathered over the past two years, including recent work on population projections and forecasting by a leading company in this field.
“What we are suggesting are modest revisions to the green belt where exceptional circumstances apply – and this includes at Hexham.
“We want to extend choice in the housing market, sustain the social and economic well-being of the community and enhance vitality.
“In order for the plan to be achievable we have to ensure that there is the right infrastructure, and we will be developing and consulting on an infrastructure delivery plan in a future stage of development of the local plan.
“It is important to note that there are no retail units proposed for the Hexham site – but rather small business units.”