A giant housing development on Green Belt adjoining South Tyneside is to go ahead – despite planners’ objections and claims letters of support were faked.
Housebuilder Persimmon has won its two-and-a-half year battle to build 144 properties at the former Wardley Colliery site, close to Whitemare Pool.
Planners at Gateshead Council initially refused to give the green light, claiming the nine acre plot but were overruled by their own councillors, who refused to accept it was out of keeping with its surroundings.
South Tyneside Council had also opposed the scheme, warning it conflicted with Green Belt policy and could impact on highways management.
Gateshead’s approval came amid claims by council officers that several supportive letters to planning chiefs were forgeries.
They uncovered a letter allegedly written by the spouse of a member of its planning team – but checks revealed they had not put pen to paper.
The authenticity of other letters were checked, and 21 residents – around half of those contacted – denied they had sent them.
It forced officers to advise that the remaining correspondence be treated with caution “in terms of being a true reflection of the level of support for this application”.
Gateshead Council confirmed it was aware that similar incidents had taken place “very occasionally” in the past.
A spokesman said it always writes to acknowledge any representations and considers “this would allow any future misrepresentation to be discovered”.
Persimmon filed its planning bid in July 2016 but councillors twice failed to decide the application.
Permission has now been granted by Gateshead’s planning committee - even though the council fears housing will encroach upon the strategic Green Belt gap with South Tyneside.
In a report to the committee, the officials warned the proposal would “significantly harm the purpose and the openness of the Green Belt at this vulnerable, yet key strategic location”.
It added: “The development of this site for housing is not required in order for the council to meet its housing delivery targets. It is considered that the proposed development does not accord with national and local planning policies.”
But councillors overruled, saying: “The Committee were minded to grant the application, against the officer recommendation, on the basis that the scheme did not amount to inappropriate development in the Green Belt.”
The site, classed a brownfield within Green Belt and open to industrial use, comprises a closed vehicle reclamation yard and a separate neighbouring business.
Gateshead Council had also claimed the project would significantly increase recreational usage of the adjacent Wardley Manor Local Wildlife Site, in turn heavily impacting on its ecological value.