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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

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Tynedale: Action group wins pledge to look again at housing need

PRESSURE is building on Northumberland County Council to lay off Hexham’s green belt.

Proposals to build new homes, shops and industrial units directly opposite Hexham’s historic cemetery (seen right) have appalled objectors.

Activists from the Protect Hexham’s Green Belt group joined forces with Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman to meet senior planning officials.

And the upshot was an agreement that all parties will work together to help produce a plan for future development that is right for the town.

Northumberland County Council’s core strategy has identified Hexham as needing 900 new homes by 2030.

Another 1,000 houses have been proposed for Prudhoe, 850 for Ponteland, 400 in Haltwhistle, 300 each in Corbridge and Bellingham and 100 in Allendale.

And to achieve these targets, large stretches of green belt land would be sacrificed to accommodate the properties.

But following the meeting with county planners, Protect Hexham’s Green Belt member Paul Bell said an agreement had been reached that the council would look first to develop brownfield sites and then greenfield sites in Hexham, before targeting its green belt land.

He described the meeting with planners Karen Ledger and Jo-Anne Garrick as “positive and constructive”, adding: “They also accepted that traffic congestion in the town centre is important. I think that is reassuring.”

He added that the planners indicated they would look again at their hotly disputed figures for population growth and the number of houses needed to meet it in line with a policy for “appropriate sustainable development in rural areas”.

Mr Opperman’s suggestion that the action group give the authority a summary of its objections and comments on the core strategy proposals was agreed.

Protect Hexham Green Belt now has until the end of the month to provide any further detail to back up its alternative proposals to meet the town’s housing needs over the next 20 years, while planners have agreed to meet group representatives again to discuss its proposals.

A key concern remains that the plans are based on a household size of just over one person per household, whereas the average figure in the area (on the council’s own data) is 2.35 people per household.

Following a concern raised by Hexham county councillor Cath Homer over the involvement of residents in the consultation process, the planners agreed to give more opportunities for public engagement in the near future.

However, they made it clear that objecting to all plans for future development was not an option.

Mr Opperman has already said he believes the council’s population projections are excessive and based on aspiration rather than need.

“There is also a lack of exceptional circumstances to justify alteration of the green belt,” he said.

Much of the group’s concern is concentrated on the fact that the county is proposing that 600 homes could be built on the Shaw’s Farm site to the west of Hexham.

Mr Opperman is sceptical about the council’s assertion that people living in any new houses at the west end would use the Two Mile Cottages junction to the A69 rather than driving through the town centre.

He said: “This is completely unrealistic.

“The council has said that the increased number of cars from these 600 new houses won’t be a problem because they will turn left and join the A69 from the west end.

“I think anyone who lives here will know that is unlikely to be the case and we will see more traffic through the town.

“Does anyone really believe someone living in the west end is going to leave the town via the A69 in the west end to then re-enter the town from the A69 to get to the railway station or Tesco?

“I really think the planners need to take a closer look at the assumptions they are making.”

Meanwhile, alarm is growing at the fact the proposed development at the west end will be in close proximity to Hexham’s historic cemetery.

As well as housing, plans obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Protect Hexham Green Belt group include shops and industrial units, which would be directly opposite the cemetery.

Group member Colin Richardson said: “The building of large numbers of houses, industrial and retail units in close proximity to the Hexham Cemetery is an appalling scheme.

“The cemetery was opened in 1859 and the prospect it will be overshadowed by development is particularly upsetting for those residents who have loved ones buried there.

“The setting of the cemetery, including the nationally known woodland burial area, is one of special significance and it would no longer be a place of charm, historic interest and tranquillity as highlighted in a recent publication.

“Northumberland County Council has a responsibility to ensure that the stewardship of the cemetery, and its setting, are maintained for future generations to enjoy.”