Modifications made to key planning document

County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.
County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.

Northumberland County Council is set to consult on some major modifications to a key planning document – the final stage before it is submitted for review by a Government inspector.

Last year the council consulted widely on a pre-submission draft of the core strategy – the main planning policies for the county and a major part of the Northumberland Local Plan.

After listening to feedback, gathering further information and reviewing new policy from Government the council is set to agree final modifications which will ensure that the document is sound and robust.

The ‘major modifications’ stage is a formal statutory stage and signifies levels of change that require further consultation. If agreed by the council’s cabinet on May 31, people will be able to comment on its soundness during a six week consultation which will run from June 15 to July 27.

Alongside the major modifications there are also some minor modifications, primarily to the wording of the document. These will be available to view but can’t be commented on as part of the consultation.

Councillor Allan Hepple, cabinet member for economic growth said: “The core strategy is an extremely important document for the future prosperity of the county, providing the planning principles that guide future development and planning decisions in Northumberland up to 2031.

“As a result of listening to views at the last stage of consultation, and through further work, we have identified that some major modifications are needed to ensure that the strategy is robust – and will stand up to the scrutiny of a Government inspector.”

He added: “Evidence is showing us that these modifications are absolutely necessary in order to ensure that we can deliver the vision for Northumberland for the future – a county that will grow and prosper – with more jobs, more residents of working age and a greater choice in the housing market.

“We are still protecting more than 99% of Northumberland’s Green Belt, and only proposing boundary changes in exceptional circumstances, through preparation of this plan.

“We want to get this right, and our submission of the core strategy towards the end of this year is set to meet Government deadlines.”

The major modifications only affect some sections of the strategy and some parts of the county – for the vast majority of Northumberland there are no changes at all.

Some of the key changes are:

In Hexham it has been necessary to look again at Green Belt land to the west of the town. In the last version of the plan the council had looked to accommodate the required number of new homes in some small pockets of Green Belt land around the town. Unfortunately a number of these are not available or not able to be developed and so the major modifications show deletion of a section of Green Belt at Shaws Lane to the west of the Town.

This is necessary to ensure there is the capacity to meet the housing numbers identified for the town, which have increased since the last version of the strategy. The council is working with the Hexham Town Council and Acomb Parish Council to carry out a housing needs survey which will provide up to date information about the type, size and tenure of homes needed in the area, including the level of need for affordable housing.

On the Green Belt area a site for new school buildings has been identified, and the strategy also highlights infrastructure improvements, which residents have been raising with the council, including to the junction with the A69 to the west of Hexham and other local junctions.

In Ponteland housing numbers have remained the same, as has the proposal to remove an area of Green Belt at the south east of the town for future development. However more detailed proposals for that area have been removed and the strategy shows more generally what uses would be. Issues such as the future form of the schools partnership need to be resolved, and the council wishes to work with Ponteland Town Council and the neighbourhood plan group to consider the future development of these sites.

The safeguarded employment land near the airport has been removed from the strategy and a two hectare area of land at Prestwick Park has been allocated for additional office development.

In Morpeth, the core strategy supports the proposals in the Neighbourhood Plan, which was overwhelmingly supported through a local referendum and has been formally made by the County Council.

The only exception to this is an area of land allocated for employment uses at Fairmoor, to the north of the town which is currently not available for employment development. An alternative employment site is proposed to the north of Lancaster Park. The safeguarded land for employment development at Stobhill is no longer being proposed for employment development beyond the plan period as the land owner has indicated that the site would not be available for this.

In Cramlington, it has been found that land at West Hartford is not suitable for major employment development and the site is not now proposed for that use.

In Ashington, land at North Seaton Industrial Estate that was allocated for investment opportunities is not now due to deliverability and availability issues. A new site ‘Wansbeck Business Park East’ between Wansbeck and Lintonville Industrial Estates has been allocated provide for investment opportunities.

The employment allocation at the former Alcan smelter site has been amended to reflect the demolition of the majority of the former smelter, which has resulted in additional land being available for development.

In Alnwick, the Willowburn Industrial Estate has been de-allocated for employment use due to high vacancy rates and the poor condition of existing premises, which largely make the site unviable for continued use.

Whilst continuing to support energy generation as a strategic sector within the Blyth Estuary Strategic Employment Area, we have reduced the size of the area by 100 hectares as the development of a ‘clean coal’ power station on land north of Brock Lane is unlikely to take place during the plan period.

The policy for onshore wind energy has been amended to reflect a Ministerial Statement last year and National Planning Policy Framework and the strategy says that suitable areas for wind turbine development will be addressed in a separate Development Plan Document and/or through neighbourhood plans.

A report on all of the major modifications to the core strategy will be considered by the council’s economic growth and strategic transport overview and scrutiny committee on May 24 before a decision is taken by the cabinet.

Copies will be available on the council’s website, as well in council planning receptions, libraries and information points. People are encouraged to submit comments online, but can be accepted by e-mail and post.

A leaflet will be made available to explain the major modifications stage and tell residents and other stakeholders how they can get involved.