Hexham Civic Society has thrown its weight behind local moves to protect Hexham’s precious greenbelt from development by opposing the recent application for 112 ‘executive homes’ at Craneshaugh at the western edge of the Town – (Planning Application 13/01208/OUT; 112 dwellings, land south of Craneshaugh, Corbridge Road, Hexham)

Despite the site itself being a housing allocation in the Tynedale Local Plan, it was approved by the Planning Inspector in 1999 on the basis that the area was a final phase of expansion for the Town, to be used only after brownfield sites within the Town were fully developed. Hexham Civic Society recognises the need for additional housing in Hexham but points to the presence of large potential sites including the former Workhouse (Hexham Hospital) and adjacent land, also totalling around 4ha. Other sites within the town were identified in the recent SHLAA (Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment). It is clear that the many brownfield opportunities within the town have not yet been exhausted, and that use of this long-term housing area will have a knock-on effect on the integrity of remaining green belt land.

The Planning Inspector stated that the two long term housing allocations at Craneshaugh/Parkwell should be “safeguarded for housing beyond the plan period. Their development is capable of being assimilated into the built form of Hexham without unduly intruding on the important landscape setting of the town, so long as due regard is paid to the landscaping of the road frontage in particular. The sites are served by public transport and, although peripheral to the town, there is no gradient to deter pedestrians. However, the release of part or all of these sites during the plan period would in my view conflict with the strategic policy of restraint (in accordance with Commuter Pressure Area (CPA) requirements covered in the issues considered under 2) below) which should apply to Hexham.”

The Inspector went on to state that “There is no justification for developing these sites in preference to those at Hexham Hospital, which have a more sustainable location and which would re-use already developed land. Therefore, my conclusion is that the safeguarded land designation is appropriate.”

If development of the Craneshaugh scheme were permitted, an equivalent area of land presently in the green belt would then be required to replace what was supposedly a final area of expansion, to be released for local housing needs only when urban sites were exhausted. This proposal is a fundamental threat to the long-term survival of Hexham’s current (and relatively young) Green Belt with its key purpose “to preserve the setting and special character” of Hexham as an historic town (para 80 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) refers). As a result it fails to meet material sustainability requirements of both Green Belt and Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment as set out in the NPPF.

The Inspector’s report allocated this site for housing to meet the needs of Hexham’s resident population with modest in-migration, to be one of the last sites to be developed, and to protect the permanence of the Green Belt. To grant permission for this executive/commuter development would be absolutely contrary to each of those three purposes.

See coverage of  HCS stance at the Journal newspaper here

Hexham Civic Society has lodged an objection to the proposal with the Case Officer Graeme Robbie at NCC. In the meantime, the Society is to host an exhibition of proposals developed by Urban Design students at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne for the development of the workhouse site. This 4ha site on Corbridge Road is an eminently developable site in an excellent location. A sympathetic scheme could refurbish the existing historic workhouse complex and provide an exciting residential opportunity almost at the heart of the Town. The Society aims to hold an exhibition of the student’s work this August at the Forum Cinema cafe.