GREEN belt campaigners fear developers will make gains into the North East countryside after being told their plans will be practically unstoppable in two months’ time.
Across the region councils have failed to prepare the local plans needed to control exactly where property firms can build homes.
As such, national planning guidelines will in two months’ time take precedence, forcing councils such as Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle to assume approval in some of the region’s most controversial planning applications.
Development groups gathered at the Newcastle Centre for Life conference hall were told their efforts will be massively strengthened when the National Planning Policy Framework comes into force. While this does not remove green belt protection, it does force councils to presume the go-ahead will be given to plans which might otherwise have been turned down.
Thousands of homes on the edges of town and city centres are already being proposed in many parts of the North East, prompting campaigns against them in Ponteland, Darras Hall, Hexham, Ovingham, Newcastle’s outer west and rural Gateshead.
At the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyor’s North East conference Philip Barnes, director at the Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners planning consultancy, made clear the changes expected.
He told some of the region’s richest property developers: “We are not saying NPPF is a free-for-all. But what we can see is that since 2008 every single authority has failed to meet its housing need.
“In 60 days’ time the NPPF will come in, meaning that any local plan not adopted is preceded by this.
“In some places we will not have any local plans for two years. Proposals will be determined by the NPPF and that is a pro-growth development. If you are looking at building then these are the areas to look at. It’s not a free-for-all, but with development in mind, now is the time to act.”
Last night, Alma Dunigan, chairman of the Ponteland Green Belt Group, which fighting plans for hundreds of new homes, said they faced a double threat.
She said: “The lack of a local plan right now makes us extremely vulnerable. There is this window of opportunity where we don’t know how many firms are going to want to build here as a result of the failure to get a local plan in place.
“But then we also have Northumberland County Council wanting to agree large-scale housing building when it gets a local plan in place.”
On March 28 the NPPF is 12 months old. From that date the housing policies of any pre-2004 local plan have no weight.
In the North East only South Tyneside and Gateshead have a post 2004 plan.
Newcastle and Gateshead have a joint local plan for more than 30,000 new homes which they hope to have completed by September. However, this could be then further delayed as it awaits Government approval and a public examination.
In Northumberland the council has summer 2014 as its earliest target for the much-delayed local plan. County Durham’s plan and North Tyneside’s plan may also not be agreed until next year.
Sunderland’s may be adopted later this year.