A decision on a major bid for 480 homes in Cramlington was deferred this week, due to fears over a potentially lethal mine gas.
The outline application, by Leebell Developments – a partnership of Persimmon and Bellway Homes, is for up to 480 homes and a 40-bed care home on land north of Station Road, on a site known as Centre Point.
The scheme had sparked 42 objections as well as an 890-name petition opposing the plans on a series of issues including flooding, loss of green space, road and traffic concerns and the impact on schools and facilities.
However, at Tuesday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee, it quickly became apparent that the primary concern was stythe gas, which eventually led to members voting to defer the decision pending further assurances from the Coal Authority.
Stythe, also known as black damp, can seep out of old mineworkings and has resulted in fatalities in the UK.
The Coal Authority, the responsible statutory body, has had to install a fan system in this area of Cramlington due to previous issues with gas leaking into homes, but raised no objection to the current application.
It is satisfied that the proposals would not impact the ventillation system or impact on gas emissions off-site.
There were conditions which would apply to the development, including membranes being installed in the new homes.
However, concerns over the gas were raised as an issue by objector Marshall Sisterson, a neighbouring resident, who also described the plans as ‘ill-proposed, ill-conceived and ill-thought-out’.
Cramlington West ward member, Coun Barry Flux, said: “The profits of the developer do not override the safety of the people of Cramlington.”
But James Hall, speaking on behalf of the applicant, said: “My clients have done everything asked of them and adopted a very responsible approach.”
He highlighted that monitoring work and surveys have been taking place over a number of years.
The two developers were initially hoping to build 600 houses on this site, sparking a campaign against the plans in 2012, which were eventually thrown out in June 2014, following a public inquiry the previous December.
Engineering experts were commissioned to carry out a study into presence of stythe at the site with a promise that the scheme would not go ahead if the work concluded that it would result in danger to public health.
But by late last year, it was found that some of the original site was deemed safe for development.