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How one council delivers more than enough homes against the odds

03 September 2018 Author: Steve Robson

According to analysis by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit, the supply of new homes in Northumberland has far outstripped the need in recent years - unlike large parts of the country struggling to meet housing demand. Principal Planner from Northumberland County Council tells us how they achieved it.

In recent years, significantly more homes have been delivered each year in Northumberland than Government’s standard methodology suggests will be required in the future. This has been achieved despite the local authority area being one with a large area of Green Belt and numerous designations including two AONBs. 

The level of housing proposed in the emerging Local Plan can be achieved without the need to remove land from the Green Belt.

From a low of 476 dwellings delivered in 2009-10, an average of 1336 dwellings per annum were delivered between 2014 and 2018. This means we have met much of the latent demand for housing built up during the preceding recession when few homes were built.

Delivering 23% more new homes than official target

Using the Government’s standard methodology, the local housing need for Northumberland between 2016 and 2026 is 717 dwellings per annum. But the rate of delivery in recent years and the level of housing proposed in the emerging Local Plan is significantly higher at 885 per annum. This increase has brought and will continue to bring greater choice for residents within the county and for those moving into the county for work. 

A significant proportion of Northumberland is designated as Green Belt, while other areas are designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), or are protected because of their heritage or conservation interest. 

Over the last four years, approximately 50% of the housing delivered was in the more urban South East Northumberland, closer to key employment areas. Significant development growth in the towns of Ashington, Blyth, Cramlington and Morpeth has supported the regeneration of the area.

Using brownfield land within Green Belts

In other parts of the county covered by a Green Belt designation, a number of large brownfield sites including former hospital sites have been utilised. The level of housing proposed in the emerging Local Plan can be achieved without the need to remove land from the Green Belt, though previously developed land in the Green Belt will continue to represent a source of supply.

A number of rural exception sites have delivered affordable homes for those in local need in areas within the defined Green Belt. The emerging Local Plan proposes to support the delivery of rural exception sites, but they are not required to meet the housing numbers proposed. 

Supporting rural growth

The Council has been keen to support the provision of housing in rural areas to support the retention and provision of facilities and key services, and the diversification of the rural economy. A number of villages have seen a significant level of housing, which, together with a number of schemes in the pipeline, will enhance their long term sustainability.

The emerging Local Plan proposes to continue support for rural growth, by encouraging more housing development in those communities which have seen little recent development.  It also recognises that some level of constraint could be required in areas which have exhibited high levels of development pressure.

In the southeast and central parts of the county, much of the housing has been delivered by large volume house builders. In the more rural areas, small to medium sized developers predominate the market.

AONBs and Neighbourhood Plans

Northumberland’s environment is distinctive in terms of its natural beauty and historic significance, with numerous designated areas and sites.  We have two AONBs:, the Northumberland Coast where there has been significant development pressure (including for second and holiday homes), and the North Pennines where there has been little development in recent years.

Neighbourhood Plans are influencing the form of developments coming forward in parts of the AONBs. For example, while a number of new dwellings in the Northumberland Coast AONB have been occupied as second or holiday homes, the North Northumberland Coastal Area Neighbourhood Plan now requires new dwellings to be for principal occupancy only. The Allendale Neighbourhood Plan particularly supports small scale development including the conversion and reconstruction of buildings for residential use.

In summary, our strategy has been to focus housing in parts of the county which saw relatively little development in previous years, close to employment opportunities and without the need to build on undeveloped Green Belt land. Housing has also been delivered in rural areas to support the retention of services and the diversification of the economy.

We are pleased that this significant progress in delivering housing has been recognised by the Government, and with a healthy supply of housing in the pipeline, we expect the rate of delivery to continue to be strong in the coming years.

Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.












Steve Robson

Steve Robson

Steve Robson is the Principal Planner (Planning Policy) at Northumberland County Council.