Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Below the Belt

Urgent news has arrived of another assault on Newcastle's Green Belt.

The Green Belts were a post World War II planning concept, successfully ending uncontrolled housing sprawl that many commentators had predicted would ruin the landscape and put the experience of walking or cycling, the chief recreations of the urban working classes in the early decades of the last century, out of reach. By this measure this our cities and large towns were given 'green lungs', an extraordinarily far sighted policy at that time.

Muted noises from commercial interests (and some maverick academics) have have sought to challenge this presumption against development. In more recent times the motor car and trunk road have made commuting from "the country" in to work an aspiration for some who can afford it, so much so that commercial developers have seen a potential gold mine beckoning. Persimmon Homes now wishes to build 500 homes on green fields next to Gosforth Nature Reserve, effectively walling it in and ending the mammalian interest of the reserve. Other, smaller, schemes would complete the encirclement: Builders Bellway are applying for permission to build a further 100 "executive houses" on a separate but adjacent site. (1)

A number of organisations have banded together to fight these proposals. Details of the issue are to be read here.

I note only that this scheme has all the hallmarks of the City Council on it. Stealthy and, presumably lengthy, meetings have ensured local councillors learned only lately of the scheme, a scheme that seems well advanced. Public consultation is a low priority and the time allowed for objections brief.

These homes are for well off aspirational buyers; they will have no effect on the sector that requires urgent attention: Low access cost housing and homes for rent. Tyneside has extensive former industrial land (so-called brownfield sites) in locations close to existing infrastructure that should be developed for affordable homes. There is no need to encroach on the Green Belt, except only for the opportunities it represents for maximising profit.

If you live in or near Newcastle please consider writing to the Council. You never know, they might even open your letter.


Images from the meeting at Gosforth Nature Reserve on Sunday 30th October 2011. (© Judith Anne Tomlinson with acknowledgement.)

Site visits were guided by volunteers. Detailed information on the past and present status of several important mammal species was given. Otters are now resident on the reserve, possibly for the first time in over a century. They are known to venture down existing waterways into Newcastle's Jesmond Dene. Building over adjacent farmland would end their tenure.

Some of those who came to hear the opening speeches from Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Reserve managers were able to walk the one and half mile circuit to see the issues for themselves. If the proposals were to be given Newcastle City Council approval, then quite shortly the view over the heads of those walking nearest the camera would be one of rooftops.

(1) Sentence corrected 6th November 2011 following further information.

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