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Monday, April 22, 2013

New business group enters debate on Ponteland green belt housing row

BUSINESS people in a sought- after North East community are being asked for their views on controversial housing plans in the hope of providing support for the plans.

Public protests have been held against plans to build 780 new homes at Ponteland and Darras Hall, which campaigners claim will destroy protected green belt land surrounding the upmarket community.

Now a new business-led organisation has been launched in a bid to provide some “balance” in what some see as a one-sided debate, dominated by green belt campaigners.

The Ponteland Business Network (PBN) will hold its inaugural meeting next week in a bid to gauge the opinion of local business people about the housing development plans being proposed by the Lugano Group and Banks Developments.

Yesterday, PBN founder Matt Gray, who owns Ponteland carpet and flooring business Bonner and White, said he can see significant benefits coming from the controversial projects, and wants to know if others share his views.

The Tyneside-based Lugano Group wants to build 280 homes at Birney Hill in a £96m development, which it says will create 672 construction jobs and a further 228 in the region.

Lugano, which owns the 2,500-acre Dissington Estate at Ponteland, says its scheme will pump £4.4m into the local economy and has promised a community benefits package totaling £16m if it goes ahead.

At the same time, Banks Developments is working on plans for 500 homes at Clickemin Farm, east of Ponteland.

Two months ago, more than 300 supporters of the Ponteland Green Belt Group handed out 5,000 information packs to local homes in support of its campaign against the building plans.

The group – which last week claimed Lugano is “more interested in profit margins than job creation” – has also staged a demonstration outside a public exhibition of the company’s plans. Hexham MP Guy Opperman and local Conservative county councillors are also hostile to the plans.

Yesterday, Mr Gray said the PBN has been set up to give the hundreds of local business people in the area more of a voice. He said the proposed redevelopment of Ponteland’s Merton Way shopping centre appears to be going nowhere, and there is a need for new investment in the community, and a boost for local business.

He said: “I believe the green belt views need to be balanced a bit because there has been huge amounts of negativity. Lugano is talking about £16m for the community and that is more than anyone else is putting on the table. It could be used to improve roads, sewage systems, transport and infrastructure.

“On the whole, I think these development proposals are pretty good and a positive thing, but I’m only one businessman. Our inaugural meeting will allow us to find out how other businesses view these developments.”

The meeting – which is by invitation only and limited to 120 attendees – will be held in Ponteland Memorial Hall on April 26, when representatives of development company Arch and the North East Chamber of Commerce will be in attendance.