An almighty row has broken out between a property developer and the political leadership of Northumberland County Council. It reflects a growing problem with our planning system.
Most worryingly, I am concerned that investment is leaking out of the county because developers are tired of mounting planning delays and bad decisions.
Plans for the controversial Dissington Estate, near Ponteland have hit the headlines again. I read with interest a recent article in the Northumberland Gazette in respect of these proposals.
Under the previous Labour administration plans for around 2000 homes plus various other uses were supported by Northumberland County Council which was ‘minded to approve’ subject to the signing of various legal agreements. The plans were partially supported off the back of an emerging Core Strategy which essentially deleted the land from the Green Belt. An extremely bold and controversial move.
In May 2017 the Conservatives took control of the council. They proceeded to withdraw the Core Strategy. The Conservatives had always opposed the development at Dissington Estate and because the Core Strategy had been withdrawn they felt there was now no policy support for the proposals. It now appears that the proposals may be reported back to the council’s Strategic Planning Committee for a fresh decision – another extremely bold move.
Lugano Property Group, the developer behind the plans, has hit out at the council and has made serious allegations about ‘unlawful’ efforts by the leader of the council and others to prevent the scheme from going ahead. This is strongly refuted by the council and its leadership.
I find this story fascinating, but I fear that it is yet again another example of how politics has a significant influence on the planning system.
These plans are extremely ambitious and controversial in an area where new development has been controversial for decades. As a former planning officer processing planning applications in the Ponteland and Darras Hall areas I know this is true.
I had my doubts about the plans for Dissington Estate; is it too big, is it the right location? But with the backdrop of a growing need for new homes, lack of affordable housing, and lack of alternative sites perhaps a bolder approach to the housing crisis is needed.
For too long the policy has been to focus new development on previously developed sites in existing settlements. Most of those sites have been developed and those that remain are not viable.
We need to find other ways of delivering a critical mass of housing and commercial land and well-designed ‘new settlements’ will help to achieve housing targets.
I also know from first hand that Northumberland County Council’s Planning Department is having problems. A lack of staff and a growing workload is having a significant, detrimental impact on the service provided.
I have sympathy for the planning officers on the ground, but the service provided is struggling to cope. We recently received permission for a client for around 40 houses in Wooler, Northumberland. From start to finish it has taken 4 years to get permission – ridiculous. I have many horror stories to tell but I don’t have the space to explain them! What I do know is that investment is leaking out of Northumberland because developers are sick of delays and bad decisions. This is really bad news for our economy and someone should stand up and take action.