Below is the Parish Council's response to the planning application for the former auction mart site.
This response was uploaded to the NCC planning portal on the 20th September.
Residents are encouraged to make their own thoughts known by uploading comments to the site.
The Parish Council is a single consultee and the more responses received, whether Support, Neutral or Object, the more the planners at NCC are able to make an informed decision taking into account the thoughts of as many local residents as possible.
This is your chance to influence what happens with the development. Don't waste the opportunity to make your thoughts known.
The address of the planning site is - https://publicaccess.northumberland.gov.uk/online-applications/search.do?action=simple
Once there, you can search using the reference number 21/03415/FUL or just the keyword mart.
The deadline for comments is Wednesday 29th September.
Bellingham Parish Council (PC) has carefully reviewed the detail of the planning application submitted by Maple Oak properties. Our review of the planning documentation and discussions with local residents have raised a number of issues that need to be taken into consideration before planning should be approved for the site.
Key areas of concern
The PC is aware that there is a need for social housing within Bellingham, with the proposals for the development in the Mart Field following a housing needs survey undertaken several years ago. However, the development does not solve the key housing issues within the village and its surrounding area in its current form.
There has been no evidence provided within the planning proposals regarding the number of social properties needed by this area. While the PC agrees that some social housing is needed, the creation of the single largest estate in the village which solely consists of social housing seems likely to dwarf the needs of the local area. The PC would like to see further research into the number of properties needed by local residents and residents of the North Tyne area for social housing before these proposals are approved. A greater mix of affordable properties to buy within the housing stock on the site would be better for the area and would be more in line with NCC’s own guidance which these proposals breach (as admitted in the planning and affordable housing document). Other estates run by Karbon Homes in the village have a number of families who have been brought in from Ashington, Blyth and other distant areas rather than the houses being allocated to local families. This suggests that either Karbon are failing to prioritise locals, or there is insufficient local demand for large numbers of social houses.
Plans for the housing for vulnerable people are vague and we would like additional information to be released regarding this to allow for comment. The PC is aware that after the loss of the Sheiling (which was closed by NCC several years ago) there is no sheltered accommodation in the area for elderly residents. If the housing for vulnerable residents is exclusively for the use of the elderly, then this would be appropriate for the site. Should the vulnerable resident definition be expanded to people with social problems, this would cause a major problem for our area as we lack access to support facilities for them and have no permanent police presence anywhere nearby to deal with problems that may arise in any reasonable time frame.
Much of the existing local housing stock is being bought up by people from outside the area and/or are being converted into holiday properties. The small number of affordable homes available as shared ownership on the site will not help many young local families find property to buy in the village and is therefore a missed opportunity. There is a very poor reputation with shared ownership properties in the area, with residents in similar properties in Briar Hill telling us that they are proving difficult or impossible to mortgage and/or sell - making it impossible for young, local families to put down long-term roots in the local area. Assistance to buy would be a more appropriate scheme instead of shared ownership. In addition, as most of the bungalows are planned to be affordable rent, it is likely to prevent older local residents from selling their houses and downsizing (as they would not meet ‘affordable’ criteria) meaning that larger, family housing stock elsewhere in the village will not have the potential to be freed up by the new development.
The PC would like to see more information on how local residents would be given priority for access to these new homes. Other developments run by Karbon in the nearby area (as mentioned previously) have had families brought in from distant areas of the county instead of being allocated to locals in need of housing. We would like to see what covenants are proposed to stop this happening and give local priority so that we can comment on whether they are sufficient or not. We would also like to know how their consistent application will be monitored to ensure they are being applied.
Local residents and the PC are concerned about the facilities and services in the village and their ability to cope with circa 150 new residents. As well as the lack of shopping and jobs, the PC is especially concerned about the impact on the doctors surgery and paramedic facilities. These both cover a very wide area outside of just Bellingham and are already difficult to access by residents. The document states that discussions are ongoing with NCC about this - but this is insufficient. Not only would the PC wish to be involved with these discussions, but as they have not been concluded or included as part of the planning submission, it means that again we lack the information needed to make an informed comment. We would look to NCC to provide this information for comment by the PC and local residents before planning approval is granted.
For ease of use, we have referenced our remaining comments to the planning documentation provided on Northumberland County Council’s planning portal. Please refer to these when reviewing the comments below.
Design and Access Statement
Page 5 refers to the green space provided as part of the development - the PC would like to see more details about this space, the amenities, planting and expected uses of the site in order to be able to assess whether it is fit for purpose. We would also like to know who will be responsible for ongoing maintenance of the site as this has been an issue in previous housing developments in the area.
The PC would also like consideration to be given to using a small part of the existing proposed green area nearest the main road for additional car parking for the village. There is already a wide drop kerb at this point (at the old vehicular entrance to the mart field site) and a very small amendment to the planning for the site would create valuable free parking for a number of cars if bays are marked out properly. This small change would make a very big impact to the village given parking issues and would also likely improve local goodwill to the proposal.
We note this page also refers to the benefits of the new store on the site. As this is not yet through planning and is not guaranteed we feel that this cannot be used as a justification for the development of housing on the site.
Page 7 refers to the street lighting in the new development. Bellingham enjoys dark skies and is close to the Dark Sky zones in Northumberland. Recent previous planning (such as for the new Indian takeaway - reference 20/01113/FUL) included measures to ensure this was taken account of as part of the planning process but there is insufficient mention of the nature of the street lighting in this planning proposal - this would be necessary before the PC can adequately comment on this.
Pedestrian access to the site seems to be contradictory with page 8 showing one pedestrian access point next to the substation, while a second pedestrian link is highlighted to the same side path on page 10, but opposite the existing allotments. We would support the idea of both of these pedestrian access points rather than just the one next to the substation.
Page 9 outlines the parking facilities - the PC would like assurances that there will be car chargers/cabling for car chargers for at least one parking space per household as this will encourage uptake of electric vehicles - a key part of the local, county and national priorities. A law currently being promoted by the government will make this a requirement for new houses soon - so it seems sensible to plan for the future in this development.
Page 14 outlines the new housing for vulnerable individuals. We note there is no mention of how this will be managed as a site. Will there be a warden/staff on site at all times in case of emergency and for site cleaning and maintenance? How will the residents access amenities as these are limited in the village and public transport links to Newcastle and Hexham are poor - as evidenced in the transport plans undertaken as part of the planning process (see later). This information needs to be provided before planning can be finalised.
Page 17 notes that Bellingham contains ‘supermarkets’ and ‘medical centres’ and ‘many facilities’. There is currently a very small Co-op and one doctors surgery which is overstretched and covers the wider North Tyne area. There are relatively few facilities or jobs in the immediate area. We feel that this section is therefore misleading when taken as part of the planning application at this time.
Flood risk assessment
Drainage of surface water mentioned in paragraph 2.02 is to flow through a surface water sewer using manhole MH9502. This is stated to be on ‘Fairstead Field’. This is not accurate per the sewage maps held by the PC. This manhole cover is on private land next to the Fairstead and, to access it, developers will need to dig through part of the old railway line which is also on private land. Can the developers confirm that they have obtained suitable permissions from the owners to allow this to happen?
In addition, as has been raised by the PC with NWL and NCC separately, the drain pipe under the Fairstead is believed to be broken and causing flooding of the field. This will have to be investigated and repaired before any new connections into it are made.
We are pleased to note that the current drainage system is deemed acceptable for the additional use brought about by the new development. However has NWL taken into account the other new development agreed at land near Noble Street? Both have been granted permission by NWL in isolation but can assurances be sought that the system can cope with both developments together?
We note the plan to connect the sewage through manholes 9415, 9401 and 8303. Can NWL confirm that 9401 is correct as there appears to be no route through from the new Mart Field development to this manhole without crossing large amounts of private property.
Planning and Affordable Housing Statement
Page 9 notes the need for the development to contribute to infrastructure and the provision of necessary community facilities, but little or no information has been provided in the proposal as to how this will be accomplished. What contributions to local infrastructure will be made and how will this be administered? Without knowing this, the PC is unable to give a weighted view of the development and its impact on the area. In particular the PC notes the policies (LR11 and LR15 - and the planning obligations mentioned on page 17) requiring play areas and outdoor sports facilities. These do not appear to have been met in the proposal and we would like to know how and where such facilities will be provided, as well as how they will be maintained. Section 5 on page 25 notes the facilities will be agreed as part of the planning process, but without proposals it means that the PC is not able to comment on their adequacy. We would expect this information to be submitted in the near future, with sufficient time and notification for the PC to comment before planning is approved by NCC.
Page 11 notes the requirement to create new habitats for wildlife, but again this does not appear to have been adequately explained as part of the planning proposal and the PC would like clarification on how this will be achieved. 5.26 notes the plan to provide integrated bird and bat roosting opportunities. This is welcomed by the PC but again more information on how this is to be accomplished is needed before comment can be made.
Page 13 notes policy EN1 - there is no detail in the planning proposals about how energy usage will be minimised. There appears to be no plans for solar on any roof space within the site and the form of heating has also not been made clear. We would like urgent clarification of this. Failure to include renewables as well as energy efficient heating will lead to the houses being more expensive to run (going against the idea of ‘affordable’ living) and will not help NCC meet its target of net zero emissions for the county. This also links to policy QOP5 requiring consideration for mitigation to climate change. The plans on page 25 note ‘low emission heating systems’ but more is needed in the way of detail for the PC to be able to comment. Other estates nearby run by Karbon have been fitted with air source heating and it seems sensible to adopt the same approach on the Mart Field.
Page 18 looks at the mix of housing provided by the proposed development. As mentioned earlier in these comments, by the report’s own admission, the mix of housing (rental to ownership) is very significantly out of balance with appropriate policies and guidelines. While the current mix has been undertaken in consultation with NCC, the PC has seen no evidence of any analysis of the scale/number of social/rental properties needed by the immediate local area. While there has been a local survey several years ago (which identified the need for the sort of houses proposed), there has been no clear work done on the volume needed meaning that this scale of rental may be inappropriate for the area. The PC would expect to see work done on this to ensure the market is not oversaturated with rental properties that the local area does not need.
Page 20 section 5.14 considers the provision of facilities for people with impaired mobility but this is not explicitly explained. How will this be accomplished? Is this just drop kerbs mentioned in the transport plan?
Section 6 on page 26 also notes that any further planning requirements will be discussed and negotiated with NCC. Bellingham PC would hope to be involved in such discussions as, again, it leaves the PC in the position of lacking full information about the development on which it has a statutory right to comment upon.
Page 27 notes the impact on local jobs with up to 10 new full time jobs being supported. As the site will house 150 people, this still means the majority of residents will have to travel for work which is not sustainable or environmentally friendly without improved public transport. In addition, there is no new retail or business space being developed by this proposal, meaning it is unclear where these shops and businesses are that will be providing new work opportunities. Without further development within Bellingham of more retail, office and business space, any job creation will be highly uncertain.
Rightly this considered the impact of the proposed new store on the housing nearby. However there are concerns over the use of air conditioning in the new store - as a planning point forward, sufficient work needs to be done to ensure noise from such external machinery is minimised and appropriate buffers put in place.
The PC would also be interested in knowing the timescale for construction on the site. As with any housing estate there will be noise and disruption for nearby residents. We hope the timetable for construction will mean this does not continue for longer than absolutely necessary,
Bellingham PC was very happy to see the proposed planting of new trees on the site, as well as the plans to retain all the trees surrounding the site (including those on the old railway line). If this changes through the course of the development, the PC will look to be consulted about the removal of any trees.
The PC welcomes the planned archaeological review of the site to ensure no damage is done to any historic assets and we look forward to being informed of the results of this survey.
The new road entrance to the estate is broadly considered suitable, but the PC has some concerns that need addressing.
Firstly, given that cars will now be turning in and out of the development, the road markings need to be renewed so cars are not swinging too far out of their lane as they turn. The road markings on the B6320 have largely worn away.
We note that page 14 has the bus timetable - however this is not the correct timetable as it shows Hexham to Bellingham times - not the other way round, giving no real evidence of the usability of public transport to access Hexham. As noted the bus service to Newcastle is almost nonexistent - only on a Saturday. The timetables included show mid week bus services from Otterburn which is not relevant to this report as there is no public transport link between Bellingham and Otterburn.
While the PC notes the suggestion of car sharing apps, in reality (after investigation) these are not widely used in the area, making it largely irrelevant to the discussion on the impact of traffic from the estate.
Page 22 notes that the estate will reinstate the existing vehicular access that served the old Mart Field. This is incorrect as the proposed vehicular access is some distance from the old entrance which is now the location of the proposed green space (which is the area where we have proposed some additional public parking be placed for the village).
Page 23 notes that there will be pavements flanking the road entrance onto the B6320. However these are extremely short and will simply mean that people from the estate will have to step out onto the main road. The PC would like to see these pavements extended out from Fountains Cottage to the stone parapet bridge to allow safe access along the road for pedestrians coming out of the estate.
Page 27 notes (correctly) that the majority of traffic exiting the new estate will turn right towards the centre of Bellingham. This road is heavily congested with parked cars on the left from Crozier Cottage down to West Woodburn junction and is essentially therefore single track. This suggests additional traffic from the site could have difficulties and cause safety problems turning onto the main road into parked traffic. Creation of a parking bay using a small part of the proposed green field site, as proposed earlier, would help to alleviate this. In addition the congestion on the road caused by parking could cause issues for the heavy machinery needed to access the site through Bellingham during construction.
Statement of community involvement
Bellingham PC notes the challenges that faced the development consultation during the COVID period, however we do have some concerns about the nature of the consultation and the points inferred from it.
Firstly, the leaflet sent out to all residents had extremely limited information and missed out significant key points (i.e. the type of ownership, etc). There was no way to access additional information for residents without going online. Given the high proportion of elderly people in the consultation group, this would naturally tend to reduce the number of responses - as many older residents may simply not have had the ability to go online and get additional details about the development to help them come to an informed conclusion. This is evidenced by the fact on page 6 that residents asked what the mix of properties would be and on page 7 what the properties would look like - if this information had been more clearly available there would not have been requests of this nature.
It is worth noting that restrictions had been lifted for in-person consultations by the time the consultation proceeded so it was a choice by the developer, rather than legal restriction, to not offer face to face consultations.
It was also disappointing that the developer chose not to engage with the Parish Council in spite of promises to do so.
As such, assuming broad community approval based on the limited feedback received from the mail-shot for the plans is potentially misleading.
We also note that there are gaps in the points raised from feedback - it is known that several residents raised the issues of sustainability and renewable energy at the development but this is not part of the analysis document. Some residents also raised concerns about the number of rental houses vs houses for sale and this has also not been mentioned here. Given the small size of responses received it is disappointing that these have not been mentioned as part of the feedback.
Page 6 notes residents are concerned about the facilities and services in the village and their ability to cope with circa 150 new residents. As well as the lack of shopping and jobs, the PC is especially concerned about the impact on the doctors surgery and paramedic facilities. These both cover a very wide area outside of just Bellingham and are already difficult to access by residents. The document states that discussions are ongoing with NCC about this - but this is insufficient. Not only would the PC wish to be involved with these discussions, but as they have not been concluded or included as part of the planning submission, it means that again we lack the information needed to make an informed comment. We would look to NCC to provide this information for comment by the PC and local residents before planning approval is granted.
A similar issue is provided regarding the concern that the houses are available to local residents by priority. This is a key concern of the PC and local residents. All properties on the site need to have appropriate covenants ensuring that they are offered by priority to anyone in the local (North Tyne and Redesdale) area. Housing in Kielder has similar covenants which give residents from the immediate area priority for a number of weeks, then gradually extends the area out if no interested residents can be found. It is of paramount importance that the site is able to benefit local residents. Again, not only would the PC wish to be involved with these discussions, but as they have not been concluded or included as part of the planning submission, it means that again we lack the information needed to make an informed comment. We would look to NCC to provide this information for comment by the PC and local residents before planning approval is granted.
Page 8 refers to the developer contributions - again the PC and local residents should be informed about what these developer contributions will be and where and when they will be spent before planning is finally approved.
The PC has some queries regarding the boundary fencing to the site:
The PC supports the 1800mm close boarded fence across the boundary with the old railway line, but with accessibility for local wildlife to be built in.
the side of the development adjoining the substation and Malting Close has an existing, long dry stone wall. While we know that sections of this will have to be removed for pedestrian access points, the wall itself is in keeping with the aesthetic of the village and we would like this to retained as the boundary to the site - even if the proposed fencing is put in on the other side of the wall.
The main electricity supply for the village currently runs on poles across the Mart Field. These poles do not seem to be on the current proposal drawings but there is no information in the documentation outlining what is planned for this wiring.
As outlined, there are some real positives to the development and the PC appreciates the work that has gone into production of the planning documents.
However the PC cannot support the proposals until the above points have been actioned and, in many cases, until more information about key issues has been provided. Once these concerns are addressed to maximise benefit for the local area and the additional information needed has been released (as outlined in this document) it will allow residents and the PC to give an informed response to every aspect of the proposed development.