The council’s Labour administration has said that the core strategy for Northumberland will be submitted within Government timescales despite criticism from a Tory MP.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the authority’s economic growth and corporate services scrutiny committee, Coun Allan Hepple, cabinet member for economic growth, hit back after reports in other media in which Hexham MP, Guy Opperman, was critical of the council’s management of the process, which has now been delayed.
Major changes are to be made to the key planning document, which will control development in the county up to 2031, and there will then be another public consultation.
The proposed timetable means that it will be submitted in December this year, in advance of the Government deadline. However, it would not be adopted until summer 2017.
At Tuesday's meeting, Coun Hepple said: "I do understand concerns about the delay. Part of this has been born by us listening closely to residents and actually responding to their concerns. We did take some expert advice on this. The option to submit knowing we had some weaknesses was not an option."
Joan Sanderson, the council's planning and housing policy manager, highlighted some of the major changes such as green-belt boundaries around smaller settlements and an update on windfarm policy following a recent Ministerial statement. "(The delay) allows us to fully review the representations and to undertake further work related to areas of risk," she added.
Coun Glen Sanderson was keen that the green belt was protected, saying: "I feel we should be taking a much more stringent view." He was assured by officers from the planning team that the report provided a summary of responses from consultees and while developers were keen for more green-belt deletions, they believe the council's current position is strong and backed by objective figures. Coun Heather Cairns suggested passing onto the decision-making cabinet a desire for a position of 'robustly defending green-belt boundaries wherever possible'.
Coun Gordon Castle raised concerns about how it would affect the decision-making of councillors on planning committees as they had been referring to the 'emerging core strategy' recently. Mark Ketley, senior development and delivery manager, explained that it was 'a very fluid policy position at the moment', but that aspects of the core strategy which are not subject to changes will carry more weight than those that are.
Coun Castle also pointed out that a number of neighbourhood plans, such as those in Alnwick and Morpeth, are now likely to be adopted ahead of the core strategy, with which they are meant to be aligned.