Hexham MP Guy Opperman back on the attack

DEVELOPERS looking to build across the green belt will be handed a 12-month free-for- all after council planners failed to get their paperwork done, an MP has warned.

DEVELOPERS looking to build across the green belt will be handed a 12-month free-for- all after council planners failed to get their paperwork done, an MP has warned.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman has warned that in parts of Ponteland, Darras Hall and Ovingham, among others, developers will be able to “run amok” following “disastrous” failings at Northumberland County Council.

Planning officers should now be finalising local plans setting out where developers can and cannot built. But a series of delays means it will be 2014 before the legal document is in place.

As such, campaigners such as those opposing green belt developments around Ponteland will find it hard to resist hundreds of new homes.

Mr Opperman has previously used parliamentary privilege to criticise developers such as Lugano, saying its actions were is “outrageous,” “totally wrong” and a sign of the firm “taking the community for fools”. Speaking in Parliament Mr Opperman has said those house builders were only able to act in such a way because Northumberland had missed a spring 2013 deadline to have its plan in place.

Mr Opperman said: “The sad fact of this matter is that there is a fundamental lack of leadership at County Hall to drive things forward and get things done. To say there was better leadership on the Titanic would be unfair. Accurate perhaps, but unfair.”

He added: “If the council fails to put its plan in place then that will be a green light for developers to run amok. In Ponteland. In Darras Hall. In New Ridley. In Ovingham. Possibly in the west of Hexham. The list is endless and it grows every week.

“This situation is not satisfactory, it is divisive, but worst of all it creates a sense that democracy is not working, that big business holds all the cards and the one protector of local people’s rights – the local authority – is failing them.”

Mr Opperman held back from further criticism of Lugano, but has previously raised concerns about tax issues at the firm, which he said was owned by a private trust, the beneficiary of which was “a Jewish organisation based in Lugano, Switzerland.”

Last night the firm said it had its headquarters in Newcastle and paid all its corporation tax in the UK, where all its assets are held. It said that the former chief rabbi of the town of Lugano is a major shareholder of the Lugano Group.

In a statement the company said: “We are pleased that Guy Opperman MP has now responded positively to our request to meet with him and we have confirmed that we are happy to answer all his questions, fully and openly. We hope this can be arranged early in the New Year.

“Lugano is a significant employer in the region with 76 locally-based staff, and it currently has schemes either in development or under construction with a value approaching £30m. These projects will create further economic benefits as well as several hundred new jobs in addition to those directly within the group.”

Lugano is trying to develop plans for 280 houses at Birney Hill, Ponteland, in the face of large local opposition.

It also owns the 2,500-acre Dissington Estate next to Ponteland and is acting for other landowners interested in developing their holdings in and around Ponteland and Darras Hall.

Last night Jeff Reid, leader of Northumberland County Council said the council was “progressing well through the legal process”.

He added: “We have published a timetable according to the Government’s guidelines, which has given the required time to complete each stage, while ensuring full consultation and engagement with residents.

“In the meantime the council is not without a plan, there are still planning policies in place across the county, which we use in conjunction with national planning policy. It seems that Mr Opperman doesn’t understand his own Government’s processes and his comments are extremely unhelpful.”


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