How newts have forced changes to a Northumberland housing development

The number of homes to be built on a former industrial site north of Morpeth is to be reduced by about a third – partly due to newts.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 14:00 pm
Updated Monday, 16th September 2019, 14:39 pm
Stock picture of a great-crested newt

A hybrid application for the old brickworks site at Stobswood was given the green light in 2015, with outline permission granted for a total of 149 houses and detailed agreement for the first phase of 19 properties.

The redevelopment is now proposed to have a total of 104 dwellings, so that additional land can be set aside as open space, at the request of Natural England, to provide appropriate mitigation habitat for the great crested newts on the site.

At a meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee on September 3, members agreed to an expanded first phase of 50 homes – 17 two-bedroom, five three-bedroom and 28 four-bedroom.

A new entrance to the site is also proposed, which would connect with the B1337 closer to Widdrington Station than the existing access.

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Given this, the newts issue and the need for ground contamination works, it is proposed that only 10% of the properties (10) would be for affordable housing, rather than the expected 17% (17).

The county council analysed the viability figures provided by the applicant in some detail and concluded that this smaller proportion was acceptable.

There will also be £52,000 for Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council to enhance community recreational facilities, £71,100 for primary healthcare and £62,400 (£600 per property) for the council’s ecology coastal mitigation service, all of which were not included under the original approval.

Members were also told that there would be clauses included in the section 106 legal agreement to secure more affordable homes if a later assessment reveals the remediation works to be less costly than anticipated or if additional houses are built over and above the 104 envisaged (as the outline permission for up to 149 remains extant).

Coun Trevor Thorne, who moved approval, said: “It’s unfortunate the affordable housing percentage has gone down, but there are reasons that has happened.”

The application was approved by 13 votes to zero, with one abstention – Coun Allan Hepple, who was unhappy at the changes to the affordable housing.