Monday, 17 February 2014

High Court Planning Decision

A Judicial Review is took place at the High Court, London on the 12th, February, at which SAVE Britain’s Heritage challenged Gateshead Council over plans to demolish 300 houses in Saltwell and Bensham in a blatant continuation of the destructive Pathfinder policy.

SAVE is challenging Gateshead Council over retrospective planning permission that they granted themselves last summer for the demolition of 115 houses two years previously without the requisite documents, and for permission to demolish a further 180 houses, some of which are still occupied. In order to secure retrospective planning permission, the Environmental Impact Assessment dictates that ‘exceptional circumstances’ must be proved.

In addition Richard Harwood QC has argued that Gateshead council failed to consider the views of English Heritage, is in breach of regulations and the EIA directive. Gateshead consulted English Heritage after it had decided to grant planning permission and did not consider EH’s reply. EH indicated that the information provided by Gateshead on the significance of the housing to be demolished was inadequate in planning policy and EIA terms and that the housing in question has heritage significance. Gateshead Council also failed to take into consideration conservation advice from their own officers.

Despite Judicial Review proceedings being underway the Council proceeded to commence demolition last November, following which SAVE secured an injunction, that it was necessary to renew following more demolition activity on one of the streets. The Council said they were making the buildings sound following the storm and blamed SAVE for being unable to do so.

1,240 houses in the area were to have been demolished under Pathfinder, which sought to address alleged ‘market failure’ in housing in certain parts of Northern cities. The housing targeted has been predominantly Victorian and Edwardian terraced housing. The issue was not one of vacancy or of uninhabitable homes – prior to the announcement of these schemes, occupation levels were normal, homes were perfectly habitable and the cost of repairs and updating would be modest. The claim of market failure was essentially that house prices were lower than elsewhere. Of the 1,240 earmarked for demolition only 115 have been demolished.

The houses in question are handsome rows of terraced houses built on a hill with an attractive vista opening out towards Newcastle. The repetitive terraces create an atmosphere of order and calm. The area is low-rise and of a human scale. The entire area is made up these houses, most of them ‘Tyneside flats’ and have two main entrances leading to two separate flats. Some residents in non-threatened areas have chosen to knock them through two-into-one. The area, apart from the condemned terraces, are fully occupied and popular homes.

The area of 115 demolished homes is beside Saltwell Road. Residents say that businesses have suffered following the loss of 115 houses. Many shops on Saltwell Road are now boarded up due to the blight. The blight is ongoing on the two other blocks of housing that the council has earmarked for demolition.

SAVE's position is clear: refurbished, the terraces still standing would make handsome homes, as can be found in the rest of the area. This would be in line with the government's line on empty homes and in line with the advice from the Ambassador of Empty Homes, native of Gateshead George Clarke, who clearly states in his 12 recommendation to the government:
'Refurbishing and upgrading existing homes should always be the first and preferred option rather than demolition.'

Planning permission was granted in August 2013. SAVE requested a public inquiry but it was refused, despite the fact that an application of similar scale for the Welsh Streets was ‘called in’ in Liverpool at the same time.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage is standing shoulder to shoulder with the Saltwell and Bensham Residents’Association.

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