National Trust chief backs MPs defending Northumberland green belt

MPs campaigning to defend green belt land across Northumberland have gained a powerful ally

Steve Parsons/PA Wire Dame Helen Ghosh, director-general of the National Trust
Dame Helen Ghosh, director-general of the National Trust

MPs campaigning to defend green belt land across Northumberland have gained a powerful ally in the form of National Trust chief, Dame Helen Ghosh.

Dame Helen said that the National Trust is “very concerned” about Government pressure on local councils to use greenfield sites for housing development and is making representations to the Government about the impact of its planning reforms on the green belt.

Her concerns have been echoed by Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, who has long campaigned to defend the green belt.

“The green belt is a major gain for those who want to properly balance conservation and development,” he said. “We should be very grateful to Dame Helen Ghosh, the director general of the respected National Trust, for her warnings about this.

“It is very unusual for her to speak out in this way and this illustrates the importance of the issue. Localism used to be a Government theme but seems to have been sidelined.”

Mr Anderson has now called for a Commons debate in support of Dame Helen’s comments and to draw attention to an issue that is clearly dividing departments in central Government.

“The Commons motion will, I hope, flush out these differences,” he said. “The Treasury has to understand that it cannot railroad developments that infringe on the green belt and the wishes of local councils and local people.

“My motion also suggests that the government reviews the impact of its centralism and calls in external and independent people to examine this controversial issue.”

Dame Helen’s claims come after Sir Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, warned last month that the green belt was “no longer sacrosanct” and called for a planning regime capable of protecting greenfield land around cities.

Newcastle is currently finalising plans for 21,000 new homes, of which around 6,000 are earmarked for green belt. Northumberland is also setting out building plans, looking to allow 24,000 new homes, of which 2,100 will be green belt. Hexham’s Guy Opperman – who strongly opposes controversial plans for house building in the countryside surrounding Darras Hall and Ponteland – has joined other MPs to form an all-party Parliamentary group dedicated to the protection of the UK’s green belt.

Mr Opperman is supporting local residents who are campaigning against plans by the Lugano Group and Banks Developments to build almost 800 new homes on green field sites in Darras Hall and Ponteland.

Mr Opperman has claimed green belt land at Ponteland is under threat because of the county council’s slow progress on completing its local plan – rather than the Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

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