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U-turn on approved home plan.

Byline: BEN O'CONNELL Local Democracy Reporter

COUNCILLORS refused a bid for new homes in Hexham - which had been given the nod three years ago - after thrashing out the issues for more than an hour.

The outline application for up to 43 homes on land north of Eilansgate was eventually turned down by eight votes to two, with one abstention, at this week's meeting of Northumberland County Council's strategic planning committee.

This was in line with the planning officer's recommendation, but the scheme had previously been given the go-ahead by the committee back in January 2016.

At that time, the approval was subject to the signing of a section 106 legal agreement for 30% affordable housing and to secure the total proceeds of the land sale be split between Hexham Golf Club and the Tynedale Athletic Association.

There was a delay while the applicant carried out viability assessments and, by the time the section 106 agreement was signed, there had been changes to the planning landscape which meant officers wanted to bring it back before councillors.

The northern part of the site is in the green belt and planners considered that the "very special circumstances" necessary to justify granting permission have not been demonstrated.

However, this has annoyed both the applicant's representatives and the two sports clubs, who own the land and were to benefit from the sale of the land to Jomast Developments.

Jonathan Wallace, from planning consultants Lichfield, said that, apart from the council replacing its previous core strategy with the draft Local Plan, "very little has changed".

Meanwhile, a committee member at Tynedale Athletic Association said she was "extremely frustrated to be back here after getting unanimous approval three years ago", adding that it was very difficult to explain to people that "we got consent, signed the 106 but are back before committee with a recommendation for refusal".

In response to questions from the councillors, planning officer Kate Blyth explained that the circumstances had changed in a number of ways since the January 2016 decision, including that the site was then proposed to be deleted from the green belt in the core strategy, which has since been abolished.

Plus, a number of aspects which contributed to the "very special circumstances" have fallen away - at the time, the council could not demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, but it now has a 12.1-year supply. And, while 30% affordable housing was above and beyond the expectation in 2016, it is now the standard level sought in the Hexham area.

Planners also now have information which shows the sports clubs "are marginally profitable with a reserve cash flow" and therefore, in their opinion, this development is not vital to ensure their ongoing viability.

On top of this, the council had concerns as to how it could monitor the money from the land sale going to the sports clubs and its subsequent use.

Some of the committee members struggled to understand why a section 106 agreement would be necessary anyway, given that the sports clubs are the landowners. But they were told that it's because the benefit to the clubs is the only possible reason that development could be supported on this site in the green belt, so had to be tied to any approval.

Following plenty of further questions, Coun Jeff Gobin initially wanted to move approval of the scheme, before amending this to a deferral in order to seek more information about how the money could be secured for the clubs in the event of planning permission being granted. However, this was voted down by eight votes to three.

Coun Trevor Thorne said: "I believe the special circumstances have gone. There are circumstances there, but are they enough to build on the green belt? I don't think they are."

Coun Barry Flux added that he believed the green-belt issue meant that this was 'actually a straightforward refusal'.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 5, 2019
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