HOUSING bosses have staged a U-turn on a controversial development after residents claimed their views on the future of a former school site had been ignored.
Council chiefs in Newcastle included the former Parkway special school in Westerhope on a list of potential housing sites.
But they backed down when faced with massive opposition from those living near the site, who said people had already told the council they did not want houses there.
At a meeting of the city council, residents and ward councillors handed in a 500-signature petition opposing the plans.
And ruling Liberal Democrats agreed the site should be taken off a list of potential locations for new so-called “social” housing.
Today Ernie Shorton, of the Chapel Park Residents Association, who handed in the petition, said: “This is fantastic, an unprecedented move. I’m pleased the council has come to its senses.
“In Newcastle we have a history of doing consultations after the event rather than before. Finally the people’s voices have been heard.”
Mr Shorton said he planned to stand as a candidate to become a councillor for Denton ward on the back of the victory and thanked local people for their support.
The row started in December when the city council and Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) announced plans to build 400 new properties on seven sites across the city to ease social housing waiting lists and provide affordable homes for private sale.
The Parkway site was one of those included on a schedule of potential housing locations, with up to 80 bungalows proposed. Councillors said the list was only the start of a consultation and that all local people would be asked for their views.
But residents pointed to a survey of 4,000 households, in which only 14% of locals said they wanted to see houses built on the site, with most preferring a new school or park.
Now the Lib Dem executive, which approved the housing site schedule, will be recommended to back down on the Parkway site.
Coun Bill Shepherd, executive member for housing, said: “This was a consultation which meant we were honestly listening to what people had to say.
“The message has come back loud and clear – people don’t want this.
“Ward councillors had done their own research asking residents what they wanted to see on the site. For whatever reason that information wasn’t passed to the executive. If it had the same decision would not have been made.”
Coun Shepherd said the Catholic Diocese had expressed an interest in using the site to expand the nearby St John Vianney school and that council officers were discussing the possibility of this.
He said some houses on the site could not be ruled out, but this would be part of a separate consultation.
Westerhope councillor Marc Donnelly said: “This seems to have been a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.
“People are quite ecstatic that their views have been taken into account, which is exactly as it should be.”
When the executive’s decision to approve the list of sites was challenged and called to a scrutiny panel before Christmas housing bosses were forced to apologise for errors in the report presented to councillors, which also neglected to mention the previous consultation in Chapel Park.
Jason Smith, Conservative spokesman for Newcastle’s West End, said: “This shows the power of people over politicians.”
Consultation will continue around the other six sites with a view to finding places to build what housing chiefs say are sorely needed homes in the city.
YHN receives an average of more than 50 bids for every property it advertises for rent. It is estimated Newcastle needs about 1,500 more council homes over the next decade.