Tories accuse Ponteland green belt housing developer of desperate tactics

A DEVELOPER behind controversial green belt housing plans has been accused of desperation tactics by promising local people a £16m sweetener if the scheme goes ahead.

A DEVELOPER behind controversial green belt housing plans has been accused of desperation tactics by promising local people a £16m sweetener if the scheme goes ahead.

Tyneside-based Lugano Group, which wants to build 280 houses in the countryside next to exclusive Darras Hall, Ponteland, unveiled what it described as a unique package of community benefits last week.

It pledged to gift 97 acres of land to the Ponteland community, to be managed by a trust owned and run by local people, with access to funding of between £8m and £10m.

It also said it will commit a further £6m to pay for improvements to local schools, education and transport, and fund other community benefits.

The package, described as by far the largest private offering of community benefit anywhere in the United Kingdom, was unveiled as Lugano submitted a planning application to build the homes at Birney Hill.

Now it has come under fire from Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman and Peter Jackson, leader of the Tory group on the county council.

Mr Opperman said if Lugano was willing to give away £16m in community benefits on the scheme, it could have other plans for the 2,500 acres of land it owns on the Dissington Estate.

“People round here aren’t daft,” he said, “they can see what’s coming a mile off. This is just the thin end of the wedge and it will take more than a sweetener to get local people to sell out their community. Slowly but surely these developers will realise that the green belt cannot be built on, and they have wasted a huge amount of money on the promise of fools’ gold.”

Coun Jackson said: “This a desperate attempt to try and save this proposed development.

“Local people are not motivated by money, they can’t be bribed. Local people want to protect the community in which they live and the beautiful green belt which surrounds it.”

Last night, Lugano said its plans offered exemplary sustainable development. And it insisted the proposals were in line with emerging policies set out by Mr Opperman and Coun Jackson’s party.

The Ponteland Community Land Trust proposed by Lugano would have access to a £3.5m pot to be spent on local projects, and £2m to help improve facilities at either the Merton Way or Broadway shopping centre.

The trust would be responsible for managing a community farm, improving local drainage , and managing workspace to be built at Birney Hill.

It would own and control eight rented properties on that development and own the land on which 54 low-cost houses for sale will be built.

A Lugano spokesman said: “The community trust is unique to this scheme, and the £16m which will be given to Ponteland is exclusively from the Birney Hill development. It does not rely on any other proposal now nor in the future.

“The trust will ensure that the local community shares in the benefits of the development, rather than the developer taking the profits of it alone.

“Birney Hill will bring high quality housing and significant funding to aspects of village life.

“Taken together, these benefits mean that Ponteland will continue to be seen as a superb place to live and work in the region for many decades to come.”

PLANS IN LINE WITH EMERGING POLICIES

LAST night Lugano said its plans offered exemplary sustainable development, and were in line with emerging policies set out by Mr Opperman and Coun Jackson’s party.

A spokesman said: "The community trust is unique to this scheme, and the £16m which will be given to Ponteland is exclusively from the Birney Hill development. It does not rely on any other proposal now nor in the future.

"The trust will ensure that the local community shares in the benefits of the development, rather than the developer taking the profits of it alone.

"The trust model is widely supported at Government levels. Birney Hill will bring high-quality housing and significant funding to aspects of village life. Taken together these benefits mean that Ponteland will continue to be seen as a superb place to live and work in the region for many decades to come."

 
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