The new Local Plan calls for 17,700 new homes in Northumberland from 2016 to 2036 – but there are already more than 22,000 in the pipeline.
One of the key changes in the draft document, produced after the new Conservative administration withdrew the previous core strategy last summer, is a reduction in the housing numbers by a quarter from 24,000.
But as with any plan, this figure is the required number of homes the county needs to be sustainable and have a level of economic growth, it is not a maximum and certainly not a limit.
So while some communities which feel under threat from developers may welcome the reduced figures in the new plan, the number of approved, outstanding to be built and completed new homes since 2016 already far outstrips the 20-year requirement in the plan.
Across the county, there were 1,531 homes completed in 2016/17, while there are another 12,854 which are outstanding to be built as at March 31, 2017.
Another 1,674 were given permission between April 1 last year and the end of January, with a further 6,206 homes that the council is ‘minded to approve’ – that is, given the green light, but with issues outstanding before they can go ahead.
In Amble, for example, the indicative number of homes required for 2016 to 2036 in the draft plan is 540, or 27 per year, but almost 1,000 were approved by the council’s strategic planning committee in a three-month spell last autumn, with another bid for 185 homes submitted last month.
Council leader Peter Jackson said: “The numbers are minimums. To go above that, developers have to present a strong argument that there’s a local need. We do feel that the judgement of this has not been rigorous in the past.”
The council’s senior planning manager, Joan Sanderson, explained that settlement boundaries, which are being proposed in the new Local Plan, are a method of providing more certainty about development as proposals outside of them have to prove ‘exceptional circumstances’.
In relation to the perceived policy vacuum since the core strategy was withdrawn – Labour said it would be a ‘developers’ free-for-all’, Coun Jackson added: “There are already policies in place which developers have to meet.
“The council has been a little bit firmer on the policies over the last year, because there are so many outstanding planning permissions. We are not going to allow developments which shouldn’t happen.”
Coun John Riddle, the cabinet member for planning and housing, highlighted that there were 10,473 homes approved in the final year of the previous council, but just 2,588 in this first year of the current Conservative administration.
Labour leader Grant Davey has described the new framework as ‘so damaging to the interests of communities across Northumberland’ and ‘the most ill-thought-out plan imaginable for the future of our children’.
By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service