GREEN belt sites across Northumberland will come under threat as a result of Government planning changes, ministers have been warned.
Northumberland County Council is the latest authority to consider the impact of a series of radically pro-business changes to national planing guidelines.
Ministers want councils to increase the number of homes built and to judge all planning applications on the assumption they will be granted unless there is a strong reason against giving the go-ahead.
Already this week Newcastle and Gateshead have said they will have to build around 10,000 new homes on green belt land as a result of Government changes.
Now Northumberland has revealed it too may have to allow villages to expand considerably in order to meet planning changes.
Officers at Northumberland County Council are keen to see more affordable housing allowed in rural areas in order to turn around a situation in which many people cannot afford to buy property in the villages they grew up in.
But because the Government is removing the focus on using up previously developed land first, builders will be given a much stronger hand to move for expansion into the green belt.
Officers at the council will warn the Government its planning changes “could potentially increase pressure on green field sites”.
They are also concerned that the changes would allow builders to target more profitable sites, with regeneration schemes such as those based on creating more homes in parts of Blyth suffering as a result.
Another worry is that the new planning laws do not offer enough protection for heritage sites such as Hadrian’s Wall, an issue on which the National Trust is locked in a battle with the Government over.
Council leader Jeff Reid last night said at present the market was not robust enough for developers to act on these fears.
The Liberal Democrat said: “Builders will want to come and build only in desirable locations, although at the moment no one is building anything, I think the downturn will mean the sites we have at the moment will realistically last us quite a while.
“Obviously there is a concern we should be getting more from the brownfield sites, but that is a lot more expensive.
“The Government is doing everything it can to create jobs and get construction jobs going. It’s very difficult to do, but one area they want to change to make this easier is by changing planning restrictions.”
Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of Hadrian’s Wall Heritage, said that as a scheduled ancient monument the Wall would continue to enjoy legal protections but there still remained some concerns.
Ms Tuttiett said: “The World Heritage Site attracts high value longer staying visitors, and it’s a careful balance, the countryside and heritage need conservation and protection, and local businesses need to thrive to grow the tourism economy in Hadrian’s Wall Country.”
Those concerns are echoed by the National Trust. Janet Bibby, regional director of the National Trust for Yorkshire and the North East, said: “The National Trust cares for some of the most iconic places in the North East, including Wallington and Cragside but also areas of the countryside including Hadrian’s Wall and stretches of the Northumberland and Durham Coast.
“We believe that in the right circumstances, there is opportunity for sensitive growth in the countryside and with positive planning and the correct safeguards in place there is the opportunity to achieve this.
“However the current debate surrounding the government’s proposed reforms of the planning system in England has led the National Trust to question whether such changes could lead to unchecked and damaging development in undesignated countryside.”