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Chris Galley

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Monday 13 April – A hedge in Bedlington with a tall story

I’ve been campaigning on this issue, and highlighted it in leaflets being distributed around Bedlington, but I think it deserves a wider audience.

BedlingtonHedgeThis building site is in Bedlington, by Gallagher Park. Persimmon is building 33 dwellings at the end of Slaley Court, off Hirst Head. There’s a bridlepath that runs from the back of the Police Station and around the cricket and football pitches. It used to the site of the coal pit heaps but has now been transformed into a green space with many leisure users. The boundary between the bridlepath and the housing development was a mature hedge, home to birds and other wildlife. The park is home to one of England’s few remaining red squirrel colonies.

One day contractors, employed by Persimmon, cut down a 10 metre section of the hedge, contrary to restrictions on their original planning permission. The company says this was an accident, and the rest of the hedge was only saved because a local resident went out and stopped the contractors. Persimmon then applied to vary the original planning, not only to rectify their error, but also to ask permission to remove more of the hedgerow. The reason they gave in their application was to facilitate the construction of the 33 houses.

This is a very strange turn of events: in applying for permission in the first place Persimmon would have known about the hedge and impact on building work. Moreover, the plan of houses doesn’t show development right up to the hedge – this would have been gardens, with one exception. There is no access needed – well unless Persimmon want to develop another field over the path, that is. However having the hedge in place would reduce the size of some of the gardens quite noticeably, and the hedge probably isn’t as “neat” as it could be. This, presumably, would reduce the value of those properties.

The latest turn of events is that a few days ago the Council’s ecology office sent in their feedback, you can see it here (PDF). I think it’s fair to say that the assistant ecologist has considerable doubts about the turn of events, and is particularly scathing about Persimmon’s proposed remediation after construction is complete. Just to take one sentence from this report: “It is difficult to envisage how the removal of sections of hedgerow would be in the interest of public amenity, given that the gardens would be entirely private and removal of sections of them would be very likely to be detrimental to public amenity, given the well used pedestrian routes on both sides of the site.”

Not all housing development is bad, we need more houses and indeed smaller scale developments are easier to assimilate than mega estates. But this sort of action severely dents the case. Furthermore it undermines public confidence in the planning permission process. When I went round to this estate to canvass opinions, the phrase that was often mentioned was “we would never be allowed to get away with this, nor should they”. Unsurprisingly 20 local residents have objected to the proposal. A decision is now expected by the end of April.

House developers need to respect the legitimate wishes of local residents – and stick to the rules!

Click here for the main planning variation. You can see my objection there, lodged on 16 February.

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