Hexham MP Guy Opperman: Green belt homes plan is 'against wishes of locals'

Hexham MP Guy Opperman has accused developer Lugano of a "speculative" attempt to build homes on green belt at Ponteland

MP Guy Opperman
MP Guy Opperman

A North MP has accused a developer of a “speculative” attempt to build homes on green belt “against the wishes of local people” and of seeking to “circumvent” democracy.

Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman went on the offensive while giving evidence to a public inquiry into Lugano Developments’ bid to build 280 homes on green belt at Ponteland.

The proposals for Birney Hill Farm are subject of an appeal after they were refused by Northumberland County Council in 2013.

The planning application had attracted 4,300 letters of objection.

At the inquiry, Mr Opperman claimed the developer had timed its proposals to take advantage of the lack of planning guidance in place in the area.

Northumberland County Council is still in the process of adopting the core strategy part of its local plan, to replace guidance drawn up by the defunct Castle Morpeth Borough Council and introduced 11 years ago.

He said: “My frustration with this application does not lie in the detail of the application. That is for others here to discuss and debate.

Birney Hill farm public inquiry at Newcastle RFC
Birney Hill farm public inquiry at Newcastle RFC
 

“My frustration, and much of that of the local communities, is rooted in the opinion that this is a purely ‘speculative’ planning application in our greenbelt, timed in what is, in my opinion, an attempt to circumvent the democratic local plan process.”

Mr Opperman spoke of how the county council has identified green belt sites for development in its latest draft of the core strategy.

And he said: “The fundamental fact is that almost no one agrees with the assertion that Birney Hill should be such a site:

“Not the county council’s planning committee, who rejected this application.

“The Neighbourhood Plan group, who don’t identify the site for future use.

“The county council’s existing planning policies, Castle Morpeth Plan 2003.

“The county council’s local plan, December 2014.

“Or the 4,300 local people who have objected to this development.”

In words which drew applause, the MP concluded: “The community here in Ponteland and Darras Hall has united in a quite extraordinary way.

“United not against development, not against housing, but against unnecessary building in the green belt.

MP Guy Opperman at the Birney Hill farm public inquiry
MP Guy Opperman at the Birney Hill farm public inquiry

“If the applicants were to bring forward a well designed scheme, in line with the council’s plan and with genuine community support I would more than happily consider it.

“But this I am afraid is not such an application.

“It is very simply an outline planning application for 280 houses in the green belt, contrary the council’s current and emerging local plan, and against the wishes of local people.”

Lugano’s barrister David Cooper defended the company, claiming the North East is the “worst” region in the country in terms of delivery of new homes and that schemes like Birney Hill are therefore much needed.

He asked Mr Opperman: “If Newcastle United was bottom of the league, do you think it should stay there forever.

“What are we doing about improving the region? And what help would decent housing make to that?”

Newcastle International Airport, the Environment Agency, the county council’s strategic housing, conservation, public protection and flood management departments, and the Ponteland Green Belt Group also objected to Lugano’s application, although the airport has since withdrawn its opposition.

The council was sent 487 letters of support.

The inquiry is being conducted by planning inspector John Gray, sitting at Newcastle Falcons’ Kingston Park rugby ground, and is due to last three weeks.

Mr Gray will make a recommendation on the appeal to a government minister, who will make the decision.

Journalists

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