Developer puts bid to extend estate on hold

THE developer behind controversial plans to build 23 homes at Hartford Hall, near Bedlington, is going back to the drawing board in a bid to end a deadlock stretching back years.

The plans were recommended for refusal at last week’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s south east area planning committee, but were withdrawn at the applicant’s request.

He says money raised would help fund work outstanding from houses built there in the past ten years.

Controversy has dogged the plans for years.

The construction of the current 48-home estate was approved by the former Wansbeck District Council as an extreme measure to raise the money needed to save the hall, a former rehabilitation centre for miners.

Numerous works, such as the provision of a new access road, were left undone, but that now-defunct council dragged its feet in bringing enforcement action against the original developer, Hartford Hall Estates.

That led to planning officers at its successor, the county council, running out of time and facing further uncertainty after the firm went into administration in 2009 and the entrepreneur behind it, Ho Sanderson, of Eshott, killed himself the year after.

The estate’s residents’ association has drawn up a plan to fund the outstanding work itself, but planning officers have dismissed it as being an unreliable solution.

The current applicant is Miles Walker, a divisional director for Newcastle engineering company Fairhurst.

Objectors argue that the once-endangered buildings are now safe and most of the works being proposed are to serve the new extension to the estate.

They say the buildings would be unacceptable in a green belt and would increase traffic and parking problems.

Objections have been registered by 38 neighbours, West Bedlington Parish Council and Northumberland Wildlife Trust.

Two neighbours back the proposal, saying it is a viable way to complete the estate and claiming that other potential supporters are unwilling to speak out because of pressure from the residents’ committee.

Objector Sue Jensen said the estate’s infrastructure was already overloaded and an extra 46 cars would make the road unsafe for children to cycle on and residents to walk along.

“Having lived on the estate for almost seven years and suffered with building works for around four years, we are only now seeing the return of wildlife – deer, red squirrels, rabbits and foxes,” she said.

“The owls and other birds that were around before the start of the phase-two development have seemingly gone for ever.”

The builder has undertaken to aim for a profit margin of 12 per cent rather than the usual 20 per cent, so income from the development could go towards funding the outstanding work.

Mr Walker’s costings have been independently appraised for the county council, and a report to the meeting, held at Blyth’s Isabella Centre, said these were mostly within accepted limits, but there would still be a deficit of £268,123.

“This does not give confidence to officers about the ongoing financial situation with regard to the development,” it adds.

Refusal was recommended because of uncertainty over the costs involved, breach of planning policies protecting the green belt and potential harm to the setting of the hall, designed in 1807 by William Stokoe for philosopher and writer William Burdon.