A HOUSE plan described as “a tragedy” for the Heritage Coast has been rejected by councillors and its handling by planning officials called into question.
The property was intended to replace a former single-storey shepherd’s cottage, Links House near Beadnell, surrounded by farmland and sand dunes.
County planners had worked with the applicant’s agents to help design a building that would dwarf the humble cottage and the result was described as “a building with considerable presence” by planning officer Peter Rutherford.
But scores of villagers who packed Alnwick’s council chamber saw the North Area Planning Committee refuse permission by six votes to one. Local member Councillor Pat Scott said such a controversial application should be tested on appeal.
As chair of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership, which spans Warkworth to south of Berwick, she said it was the first in the country to have an integrated management plan.
She said the committee should give serious consideration to the very strong letter of objection from the AONB officer.
Councillor Scott said: “What does concern me is that the committee has not had sight of this letter from the AONB until this evening and it is not on the public access system.”
However, she said a letter sent at the same time about another application did appear on the system.
“This inconsistency by the planning department is a cause of concern, not only to members of the public but to myself as an elected member,” she added.
Members of the public who asked for copies of the letter at the meeting were told by a legal officer that photocopying might not be available in the building.Coun Scott said the old cottage was damp and badly insulated, but the proposed replacement was a large, intrusive structure unacceptable to the AONB Partnership, Beadnell Parish Council and a lot of the local community.
“This new proposed building would dominate the land and seascape and detract from what is truly iconic – the coastal landscape.”
The other public speaker, parish councillor Christine Williamson, said the new house would increase the floor area by 400 per cent and the height by three metres.
“It will tower above the dunes, altering the character of the coastline and the skyline,” she said, adding that this would “be a tragedy.”
A report to councillors suggested the house would be “a beacon of contemporary architecture on the coast.”
Mr Rutherford said: “There is no doubt there are some very strong built features along the Northumberland coast.” He produced a map referring mainly to medieval castles. “It’s contemporary, it will be seen, but I think there are merits to the application.”
Coun Dougie Watkin, who went on to vote for the application, asked if the AONB was correct to say this was contrary to planning guidance.
Mr Rutherford said there were no policies saying a site could not be redeveloped.
“It’s my professional opinion that this design is acceptable in the context of existing policy,” he said
Coun Anthony Murray proposed refusal on the grounds the house would damage the county’s portfolio, but was told that was not a planning reason.
Coun Trevor Thorne said the massing, size and design were wrong.
He said: “It’s an exciting design, but I don’t think it’s the right design for this location.”
His motion to refuse was seconded by Coun Robert Arckless, who said: “We have a duty of stewardship on a very, very special part of our county’s heritage.”