Local people were kept in the dark on building plans while council held secret talks with London-based investor
Newcastle Council claims to be acting transparently in its consultation with residents over its One Core Strategy (OCS) – a 21,000-house development plan which has aroused opposition from people across Newcastle and Gateshead. But new evidence obtained by Save Throckley’s Open Places (STOP) suggests the council is not treating all interested parties equally.
The council, it seems, has been happy to give large landowners privileged access to its thinking – apparently discussing the contents of the OCS plan with them at a time when residents were being kept in the dark. This would make a mockery of its claims to be acting transparently. The landowners, of course, are the very people who are in line for a financial windfall if their land is approved for development – whereas residents will undoubtedly see a sharp drop in their property values if the OCS plans go ahead.
What is the evidence that the council is favouring landowners? Principally, the action of a large Throckley landowner – London-based Greenwich Hospital Trust (GHT).
STOP has learned that GHT bought Fernhill, a key plot of land in Throckley, late in 2011. In October 2011 Newcastle made its very first public announcement of the OCS development plan. OCS is set to deliver a financial bonanza to GHT. Undeveloped farmland in Throckley that GHT has owned for many years has suddenly become valuable – because Newcastle now wants to put a 500-home housing estate on it. But GHT’s purchase of Fernhill was designed to make that development site even more valuable, by clearing the path for an essential access road between it and Throckley’s main road, the B6582. (Hexham Rd)
An agent acting on behalf of GHT confirmed they had purchased the plot. For reasons that are not yet clear, a Land registry search shows Fernhill as being transferred to the ‘Secretary of State for Defence’. This took place in in January 2012 but discussions and conveyancing no-doubt started much earlier.
Newcastle would have us believe no-one outside the council had knowledge of its huge development plans until October. But would GHT suddenly have shown an interest in Fernhill unless Newcastle had secretly given it prior notice of its intentions? STOP suggests that is exactly what happened.
Moreover, GHT’s transaction suggests it is convinced the lucrative development on its land in Throckley is certain to get approval – no matter what objections local residents may bring. Has Newcastle Council given it such an assurance, and is the decision to develop therefore a fait accompli, and the current public consultation process a sham?
What we can say for sure, is that Newcastle’s original consultation document of last October said nothing about the access road between the B6582 and GHT’s land. This first appeared on maps published in January2012 – another example of Newcastle’s lack of transparency.
Perhaps disclosing the planned road as early as October would have given away the fact that the Council was in cahoots with GHT, and had tipped it off in advance? Or perhaps Newcastle simply feared an angry reaction from residents at the proposed road, which passes through what is currently the playing field of Throckley First School.
The latest revelation comes just months after Newcastle was embarrassed into extending the initial period of public consultation, having failed to allow residents adequate time to respond to its proposal.