Fears over 'legacy of dereliction' for Washington under Sunderland City Council's blueprint for the future

Rickleton Village Centre.
Rickleton Village Centre.

The blueprint for Sunderland’s future could leave 'legacy of dereliction' in Washington, objectors claim.

Pressing ahead with housing plans on Sunderland’s green belt  could leave a “legacy of dereliction” in Washington, a planning inspector has been told.

Southern Area Playing Fields, Washington.

Southern Area Playing Fields, Washington.

In recent weeks, a public examination has been hearing evidence on Sunderland City Council’s Core Strategy and Development Plan, or ‘local plan’.

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The document sets out a blueprint for Sunderland’s future in terms of housing, jobs and economic growth, with plans to build 13,000-plus homes by 2033.

Since it was announced, the plan has sparked controversy over plans to remove protected status from several green spaces – 3% of the total green belt.

Bede Tower, in Burdon Road, Sunderland, where the meeting is taking place

Bede Tower, in Burdon Road, Sunderland, where the meeting is taking place

On Wednesday June 5 the public probe focused on ‘housing growth areas’ in the Washington sub-area, which covers Springwell Village.

Liz Reid, of Springwell Village Residents’ Association, spoke out against plans at the Bede Tower meeting.

In Springwell, she said developments could effectively merge Washington with Springwell.

“Once (green belt) is gone, it’s gone forever and it’s naive to think the council’s development control planners will have the tools with which to resist over development,” she said.

Sunderland Civic Centre

Sunderland Civic Centre

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“Surely it’s the duty and responsibility of the local authority to protect the green belt and make sure it does its job, there should be more done to encourage development of brownfield sites.

“If developers are allowed to build houses on green belt sites, why on earth would they spend money to remediate brownfield sites?

“In Washington alone, we’re left with a legacy of dereliction.”

The six housing growth areas

There are six housing growth areas outlined in Washington which aim to deliver a total of around 600 homes.

They include South West Springwell, East Springwell, North of High Usworth, North of Usworth Hall, Fatfield and Rickleton.

Sunderland City Council have previously said all sites meet “exceptional circumstances” needed to justify developing on the green belt.

This includes issues around “tightly constrained” green belt boundaries and the need for additional housing in the area to drive economic growth.

But Liz Reid said jobs, rather than houses, boost the economy and questioned what benefits new homes would bring to Springwell.

Green Party councillor for Washington South, Dom Armstrong, added: “To suggest (Springwell) is going to suffer if there’s no housing development is frankly unrealistic.”

Council representatives said there would be no “coalescence” between Springwell and Washington adding the Springwell sites represent 1% of total housing development in the plan.

At the meeting, developers also argued that ‘safeguarded sites’  in the local plan could be used in place of the green belt.

Currently, this applies to sites in Springwell and the East of Washington – near the site of the planned International Advanced Manufacturing Park – which have been removed from the green belt.

Safeguarding status

According to the plan, safeguarded status aims to keep green belt boundaries in place and sites can only be released for development through a review of the plan.

At the hearing, calls were made to bring the East Washington site forward earlier to help meet government housing targets.

Developers said they could build more than 1,200 homes on the site to boost the local economy.

While brownfield sites are a “key priority”, Phil Jones, of government agency Homes England added, they’re not able to solve housing pressures alone.

And proposals to bring the East Washington site forward, he argued, could help “minimise green belt deletions elsewhere.”

However, Sunderland City Council said they could not release the  safeguarded site in the current planning period.

They added the safeguarded site will be monitored and reviewed at least on a five-year basis.

The public examination continues.