Northumberland warned over delays to green belt safeguards

Hexham Conservative Guy Opperman hits out at Northumberland County Council over delays to Local Plan

Residents from Hexham, who are against houses being built on green belt near their homes
Residents from Hexham, who are against houses being built on green belt near their homes

Green belt builders will have the upper hand as a county council faces up to embarrassing delays in passing legal protection for key sites.

Northumberland County Council is experiencing delays in passing its local plan, which will set out where 24,000 new homes can be built over the next two decades, including more than 2,000 on the green belt.

Those plans need to be passed as soon as possible or developers will be able to appeal to Government for permission to build where they like as a result of out-of-date plans.

Despite that pressing demand, councillors in Northumberland have been told the county council is far behind where it should be. It is now unlikely the council will even have finished consultation on the first of five stages by Christmas, the Conservatives have said.

Hexham Tory MP Guy Opperman said there is concern that it could be after 2015 before residents fighting green belt expansion have a plan to work with.

Developers are known to be targeting green belt land on the edge of Ponteland, Hexham and Morpeth for development, despite opposition from local people.

He said: “The facts have been very clear from day one. If an authority does not have a plan in place, it runs the risk of speculative planning applications from developers and of its decisions being overturned on appeal.

“The only way a council can protect the green belt is by having a up-to-date local plan. I now worry deeply that in Northumberland, several years after the process was started, and many months after other council’s completed their own local plans, we here in Northumberland are still left with no local plan.”

He added: “This abject failure by the County Council to get a local plan in place and protect our green belt leaves my communities on the knife edge, and I am quite frankly furious.

“I have tried hard not to blame the staff at County Hall. Nor can anyone blame the squeeze on council budgets, as almost 279 councils are managing to deliver their local plans.

“I am afraid as I have said from day one, here in Northumberland under this increasingly woeful Labour administration we have suffered from poor organization, poor management and fundamentally poor leadership.

“The whole things seems to have almost completely collapsed.”

Coun Peter Jackson, who represents Ponteland South, said: “The news that the council has failed to get its act to together is a real blow for communities like mine fighting to protect the greenbelt. Serious questions must now be asked as to how the council’s administration has allowed us to end up in the worst 20% of councils without even the first stage of our plan completed.

“I have been told one of the reasons that plan is being delayed is that new ONS figures show the council’s figures were inflated, something we have been telling the administration since the day they took office. Once again Labour failed to listen and look at the almighty mess it has got our county into. It is an absolute shambles.”

Northumberland County Council did not provide a comment when asked by The Journal yesterday.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer