Northumberland County Council looking to scrap 300 acres of greenbelt around Ponteland, MP claims

Northumberland County Council is looking to scrap around 300 acres of greenbelt around Ponteland, MP Guy Opperman has claimed

Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham
Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham

Council chiefs are proposing to delete 300 acres of greenbelt around an upmarket Northumberland town, an MP has claimed.

Northumberland County Council is however planning to reduce the number of houses to be built around Ponteland by around 200, the area’s MP Guy Opperman has said.

And greenbelt owned by a developer which is seeking to build hundreds of houses is not proposed for deletion, the MP added.

Mr Opperman criticised the council for proposing so much of the greenbelt be deleted and said local people would redouble their efforts to safeguard the protected land.

Council bosses said 82 hectares - just over 200 acres - are proposed for deletion around Ponteland by 2031.

They revealed that almost 70% of that is identified for education, playing fields, leisure and open space - not housing.

The Journal has previously reported how the council is proposing to delete swathes of greenbelt at towns and villages across its boundaries, to allow for the house building and creation of employment sites it says are needed to cope with a forecasted population rise of 10% by 2031.

Authority bosses were originally anticipating 750 homes be built at Ponteland, in a draft version of their core strategy planning document.

Residents voiced opposition to the plans, with the Ponteland Greenbelt group formed.

Conservative MP for Hexham Mr Opperman is now claiming the council is proposing to delete around 300 acres of greenbelt in the next version of the strategy, which is due for imminent release.

The MP says the 200 acres up to 2031 is proposed to be used for employment as well as housing, with the further 100 acres “safeguarded” for further use after the life of the plan.

However, Mr Opperman claims the council has reduced the number of homes it is proposing for the Ponteland area, from more than 800 to just over 600.

And he says the authority is not planning to release land owned by developer Lugano - which is hoping to build 280 homes at Birney Hill Farm in Ponteland - from the greenbelt.

Mr Opperman called the level of deletion proposed “a nightmare come true.”

He added: “After all of our campaigning and hard work local residents will be horrified by what the Labour council is now proposing.

“This is an attack on the very character of Ponteland and Darras Hall.

“The county council’s Labour Administration has earmarked just over 600 homes for our area over the next 20 years, of which 300 have already been built or got planning permission.

“Therefore I am at a loss to understand why they are planning to remove so much land from the greenbelt. The amount of the land they want to strip out from the greenbelt is enough for 5,000 new houses. It is a terrifying prospect.”

Mr Opperman continued: “It is positive news we have been able to reduce the number of houses from over 800 to now just over 600. “It is also a good thing none of the land held by Lugano is being released from the greenbelt, including the proposed Birney Hill development.

“However for the Labour run county council to try and release so much land from the greenbelt around Ponteland is a real blow to our community.

“However the sacrifice of so much protected greenbelt land is nothing short of a manifestation of failure. This Labour run Council’s local plan as it stands is defective and will not deliver.

“We will have to live with the decision made by the council long after the current Labour leadership leaves power.

“Our campaign to protect the greenbelt around Ponteland and Darras Hall will not end, we will now only re-double our efforts.”

Ponteland new houses protest in October 2013
Ponteland new houses protest in October 2013

Coun Allan Hepple, policy board member for planning, housing and regeneration at the county council, said: “We need more housing for working families and in line with national planning policy we will only propose to remove land from the greenbelt when we feel that there are exceptional circumstances to justify this.

“We have identified that there is a need to release greenbelt land in some places where the current boundary prevents the sustainable growth of the settlement.

“Of the land proposed to be released from the greenbelt around Ponteland over the plan period to 2031, 56 hectares of the 82 hectares, so almost 70%, is identified for education, playing fields, leisure and open space. We need to be clear and reassure residents this will not include housing.

“The draft local plan, which has had input from the community, will be discussed in detail by councillors in the coming weeks. “Following this all communities in Northumberland will have the opportunity to comment on the plan during a period of public consultation.”

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