If you feel strongly about the loss of Green Belt around Hexham, then please make your views known PlanningStrategy@northumberland.gov.uk

There is a drop in event in connection with these proposals, organised by NCC, from 15.00 to 18.00, followed by a discussion session from 18.30 to 20.30 at Prospect House, Hallgate on Tuesday 19th November.

A recent report by Northumberland County Council’s Corporate Director of
Local Services in the context of the Northumberland Local Plan, Preferred
Options, is explicit:-
To enable the level of economic and housing development required to deliver the preferred strategy, Hexham, Prudhoe, and Ponteland will require land to be deleted from the Green Belt.

The consultation document proposes the broad areas that are considered the most appropriate locations for Green Belt deletion.

The deletion of Green Belt without specific justification of “exceptional circumstances” together with the detail of each deletion is absolutely incompatible with the principle of Green Belt and with current planning policies and must be resisted robustly. We detail below the several reasons why the proposed deletion is totally wrong.

THE CASE AGAINST PROPOSED LOSSES TO HEXHAM’S GREEN BELT IN THE EMERGING NORTHUMBERLAND DEVELOPMENT PLAN

Introduction

It is evident from the above statement by NCC’s Corporate Director and from local media, that the emerging Northumberland County Council (NCC) Development Plan proposes that settlements in the county including Hexham will need to accommodate substantive additional housing development in order to ensure that the county retains a population of working age. There is apparently the current prospect of a shrinking working population in the county and a need to accommodate more people than previously envisaged to provide a labour force within each settlement to meet future local employment demands.

This concern is noted; however, all the settlements identified for substantive growth, including Prudhoe, Ponteland and Hexham, are notably different in planning terms including in their national planning significance, their environmental sensitivity to substantive new development and their planning histories. All planning decisions should be reached on the basis of a reasonable balance and judgement of relevant material planning considerations.  It is apparent in this context that the above “One Green Belt solution fits all settlements” approach in the emerging Development Plan is not based on any reasonable balancing of material planning considerations relevant to Hexham. We therefore set out below the material planning considerations which appear not to have  been taken into account or which illustrate deficiencies in NCC’s approach to planning in Hexham and demonstrate why Hexham’s Green Belt should remain as it is

1. The national significance of Hexham as an historic town

The overriding case against any loss of the current Green Belt around Hexham starts with the 1995 letter from the London office of English Heritage. This letter was the main foundation for the “need” case to protect historic Hexham with the original tightly-drawn Green Belt. This letter confirms the national historic significance of Hexham and its second paragraph states:-

“The outstanding importance of the Hexham Conservation Area has long been acknowledged by English Heritage, and the fact that grant assistance from national resources has been directed to the area is a tangible recognition of its status. Similarly, Hexham itself ranks as an historic town of  ……”

Harming the character of a nationally significant historic town by inappropriate substantive development within its countryside setting is wholly unacceptable.

2.  The wide visibility of Hexham and its attractive countryside setting on the rising southern valley-side of the river Tyne

The 1995 English Heritage letter also confirms the wide visibility of Hexham’s historic core and the attractive quality of Hexham’s materially important countryside setting: –

…… its distinctive topography is such that the historic core is readily visible from the North and East of the Town. The surrounding countryside is of high visual quality and includes part of the North Pennines AONB to the South. The landscape setting of the Town on the southern slopes of the Tyne Valley, within the wider visual envelope of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, serves to emphasise the importance of the key edges and the dramatic profile of the landmark buildings in the historic core as key components of distant views from vantage points in the surrounding area. The attractive hillside landscape encircling the town is particularly vulnerable to visual intrusion from development.”

The quality of the town’s countryside setting and the fact that “the attractive hillside landscape encircling the town is particularly vulnerable to visual intrusion from development” are material issues supporting the full protection, not the substantive development, of Hexham’s countryside setting.

3. Hexham has already been subject to substantive recent housing development to an extent not found elsewhere in Tyne Valley settlements or generally in Northumberland

The Report of the Panel on the Examination in Public of the Northumberland Replacement County Structure Plan of 1995 confirms that Hexham has recently had more housing development than other Northumberland settlement.

Para. 2.38 states: –
Clearly, since 1989 when the westward limit of the Green Belt designation was determined in the Tyne Valley Local Plan, there have been major changes affecting Hexham. The experience of TDC (Tynedale District Council) was that commuter pressure for new housing in relation to Hexham had increased through the 1980’s, to the extent that the increase in the number of dwellings built in Hexham amounted to the highest rate of increase of any town in Northumberland (and possibly the Northern Region), an increase of 26.6% when compared to a 10% increase for the County as a whole. The town accommodated nearly half of all the new dwellings built in the Tyne valley over the period 1981 to 1991 and the records show that this building was associated with commuting to Tyneside.

Para. 2.39 continues:-
The Panel concurs with the view that this growth translates to disproportionately high levels of population growth and a consequential rise in activity that is damaging to both the historic town and its landscape setting. Census figures show that in 1971 there were 3,493 dwellings in the town and in 1991 4,756 dwellings” – a rise of 1,263 dwellings and a housing growth rate of 36% over this 20 year period.

The emerging NCC development plan apparently seeks to ignore or is just ignorant of these “disproportionately high levels of population growth and a consequential rise in activity that is damaging to both the historic town and its landscape setting”. Whether it is a case of ignoring this “damaging” situation or being ignorant of it, amounts to the same thing, that of not taking appropriate account of a material planning consideration. In addition, it would be inconceivable that the emerging NCC development plan should be proposing to materially add to past damage with a substantial new area of housing

In conclusion, a key lesson of the recent history of flooding Hexham with a large amount of housing (including a sizeable proportion of executive housing) is that it does not affect where people choose to work. Living in a house in Hexham does not necessarily result in such residents working in Hexham It should not be a surprise to NCC that people travel from their homes to work. Much of this travelling from Hexham is to Tyneside and beyond. Just how NCC thinks that providing more houses in Hexham will result in a captive local workforce to meet local employment needs is not clear. There is no apparent planning measure or legal control that would mean that buying a house in Hexham meant that you could only work in Hexham as part of a captive labour pool. The whole concept of seeking to justify material harm to Hexham by building many more houses in order to meet local employment needs is seriously flawed. People do travel to work and the previous result of this housing growth approach during the 1980’s has been material and unsustainable harm to Hexham and a lot of unsustainable commuting.