Ponteland green belt plan a failed £25m gamble says Hexham MP

Hexham MP Guy Opperman has spoken after county council planners threw out a bid to build houses on green belt land near Ponteland

Hexham MP Guy Opperman
Hexham MP Guy Opperman

Failed green belt building plans were a “£25m gamble” that showed people power can beat “slick PR”, a Northumberland MP has said.

Hexham’s Guy Opperman has spoken after county council planners threw out a bid by Lugano to build 280 homes on farmland near Ponteland, Northumberland.

More than 4,000 people objected to the plans which were said to represent inappropriate development. The developer has signalled an appeal, but last night Mr Opperman said it was the time big businesses gave more consideration to the green belt.

The Conservative MP said: “I know only too well I have came in for some stick for the battle I have waged against Lugano and other big developers. However, I am more confident that ever that it was worth it.

“We forget at our peril we are custodians of this land. Bulldozing it to build executive houses when there are brownfield sites is just plain wrong. I, and our local communities, can not be bought by promises of cash tomorrow and slick PR.

“This has been a victory for our local campaign, backed by over 4,000 local objections, over the money men and big developers. Lugano have blown it, with the rejection of Birney Hill and none of their sites included in the council’s draft housing plan; they have played a £25m gamble and lost.”

Mr Opperman and Lugano have been locked in dispute after the MP, secretary to the All Party Group on Green Belt, spoke in parliament about the organisations foreign backers. His comments sparked threats to sue the MP amid claims of an abuse of parliamentary privilege.

Lugano is led by chairman Barry Moat, the North East millionaire who was at one time in the running to buy up Newcastle United. The former chief rabbi of the town of Lugano is a major shareholder of the Lugano Group.

Mr Opperman added: “The planning committee made the right decision in rejecting this application. Whatever the minor merits or otherwise of the scheme itself the key factor was that this was a green belt site in open countryside.”

For Lugano Richard Robson said the firm would appeal. He added: “There is an acute shortage of housing and the Council has acknowledged the need for green belt release. The authority does not have a five year supply of housing land. Our scheme is of high quality and low density and was formulated in direct response to feedback from the local community.

“It offered over £13m in direct contributions to local infrastructure and priorities as well as considerable job creation and a significant proportion of affordable homes. Mr Opperman has unfortunately not sought to recognise any of these facts and also seems to disregard the priorities of his own party; namely the need to stimulate the economy and promote house building.

“We are confident of success at appeal.”

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