Thank you to everyone who sat through almost three hours of Alice in Wonderland logic from Newcastle City Council officers and Newcastle Great Park Consortium this morning.
Developer-led officers succeeded in bamboozling members of the planning committee into giving the thumbs up to unlawful plans that will harm the Green Belt and wildlife in Newcastle.
Officers justified the huge uplift in housing numbers on the grounds that there were multiple other applications approved previously, with greater numbers of houses than allocated in the local development plan.
Rather than observe that this would surely mean there is even less of a need for yet more houses, the assistant planning director used this to condone further development contrary to the local development plan.
A dangerous precedent has already been set and today’s decision will have significant ramifications for the Green Belt.
Officers quoted case law in a desperate attempt to cloak the illegalities of the proposals before them, but with less than 24 hours to consider last minute updates, did councillors really know what they were voting for?
Alas, nonsense appears to be sense in Newcastle, with only one councillor voting against the plans.
Newcastle City Council is set to issue a decision notice. Once this is published we will be submitting a pre-action protocol letter to trigger the judicial review process.
Below is a copy of the speech we gave.
There is one simple reason why this application should not be accepted. And that is the 320 extra houses, for which there is no planning justification.
The report before you outlines the extensive harm this proposal would cause: loss of public access to Green Belt; loss of recreational open space; loss of wildlife. This harm is caused by the 320 additional houses, which have pushed playing fields out of Cell A – where they are allocated in the local plan.
There is no justification for developing Green Belt land at Cell B1. Do not be misled by claims that loss of Green Belt is the penance that must be paid for school provision. Playing fields could easily be accommodated in Cell A, where land has been allocated for 880 houses and school-related provision. The benefits outlined in the report would still exist if the plans accorded with the development plan. The Core Strategy does not allocate Cell B1 for any form of development.
In August, the applicant outlined four possible alternatives for sports pitches in Cell A, which would negate the need entirely for B1 development, and thus Green Belt encroachment. There is nothing stopping one of these alternatives from being taken forward, yet, these alternatives are not assessed in the report. It is worth noting that our comments on these alternatives have also been omitted from the report. There are clear benefits to the Education Authority in locating the playing fields on the same site as the school, west of the proposed location: in Cell A.
The report says the application must be determined as it stands. But national policy and the development plan says otherwise. Alternative, less harmful options must be given due consideration.
This application would have dire consequences for wildlife. The future of the Red Squirrel in Newcastle would be severely compromised: a species that could be extinct within the UK in the next 10 years. Recreational pressure on Havannah Nature Reserve – their last haven in Newcastle – would be enormous, not least because this proposal fails to provide any accessible open space for the community.
Land that supports Willow Tit – a nationally rare bird, now extinct in many areas of south-east England – will be lost to this development, as well as land that supports red-listed birds, such as skylark, curlew, lapwing and grey partridge.
The mitigation proposed for this development is woefully inadequate and would take a decade – at least – to provide any benefit. In the meantime, wildlife – including the endangered Willow Tit and a rare species of Bat (Nathusius Pipistrelle) – have nowhere to go.
The NPPF and saved UDP policies say ecological harm should be avoided where possible. This means locating development away from sensitive areas like Cell B1. But this proposal would destroy existing habitats and create an alien and sterile environment for wildlife. Biodiversity loss threatens human existence and habitat loss threatens all our futures.
It is in the public interest to defer this application. The harm inflicted cannot be outweighed and the need for development can be met elsewhere: in Cell A. This would leave Cell B1 as it should be, for people and wildlife, and as publicly accessible open space, which is in short supply in Castle Ward.
Members have a simple choice to make today. Support the people of Newcastle and fulfil your duty to conserve wildlife by deferring this application, or line the pockets of Persimmon Homes and Taylor Wimpey.
More than 430 people have objected to these plans. And more than 8,000 people have signed an online petition. Not one single letter has been received in support of the application.
We therefore ask you to defer your decision until officers seek a reduction in housing numbers, in line with the Core Strategy.
Failure to honour the local plan will betray our trust in local politicians and a legal challenge would be costly, with further delays to vital school provision.
We are not asking you to refuse the application. We are simply asking Newcastle City Council to play by the rules.
There is a plan in place; a plan that has been subject to full scrutiny. And this should not be discounted to assuage the pathological pursuit of profit. This proposal would cause significant harm and must be determined in accordance with the development plan.
We hope you will make the right decision today, regardless of what financial promises are made by the applicant.