Plans for 'horse exercise track' on green belt land refused by Sunderland councillors
Plans to create a 'horse exercise track' on green belt land on the outskirts of Houghton have been knocked back by city councillors.
Earlier in January, a planning application was validated by Sunderland City Council for land south of High Lane and north west of the A690 at Stoneygate, in the Copt Hill ward.
The plans from Ajay Brickworks included forming a horse track through partial re-levelling of land and associated fencing and tree planting to screen the site.
According to a report prepared for councillors this week, the application was partly retrospective as it was submitted after some of the work had already taken place.
During consultation, objections were submitted on behalf of Over the Hill Farm residents, who share the proposed access with the development.
Concerns included the impact on the green belt, the “highly visible” nature of the site and "further harm" from increased activity.
One objector also suggested that the development could be used for commercial ‘harness racing/training’ - which usually involves horses pulling two-wheeled carts- rather than an exercise track for personal use.
The plans were presented for decision at the council’s Planning and Highways (West) Committee on Tuesday (June 8) at Sunderland Civic Centre.
Planning officers recommended the application for refusal as they said it represented an “inappropriate form of development within the green belt.”
A report presented to councillors added the plans did not demonstrate “very special circumstances" needed to outweigh harm to the green belt and would have a "detrimental impact on the openness, character and appearance of the countryside."
Copt Hill ward councillor Kevin Johnston said the works at the site had impacted on nearby residents and would continue to damage the openess of the green belt.
He told the planning meeting: “This application from the very start has been a prime example of how an applicant should not approach or conduct themselves with any planning applications in the city to the detriment of this council and the residents who have had to suffer.
"To be honest, [the applicant] should really be coming here tonight with an apology, not seeking planning approval."
Planning agent Dr Anton Lang said the applicant didn’t know that re-grading the land to form a horse track needed planning permission, with the applicant apologising for the application being partly retrospective.
Councillors heard that the works that were undertaken on the development were "paused once the local authority got involved."
The planning agent also argued that the development was acceptable in the green belt in terms of its impact on openness and said the council's refusal reason would be difficult to defend if an appeal is lodged.
He added that the private use of the horse track could be controlled by a council planning condition to be ‘training, not racing’ in the future.
Council planners said that the main issue with the application was that it constituted ‘operational development’ in the green belt.
Following discussion, councillors on the committee voted in line with a planning officer's recommendation to refuse the development.
Councillor Graeme Miller, vice chair of the Planning and Highways (West) Committee, said: "At the end of the day, we just cannot accept retrospective applications on green belt.
"It's entirely inappropriate especially when there is no special circumstance that would alleviate the, quite rightly, strong protections that go in on the green belt on issues like this."
Cllr Miller added: “If we open the door on this, what will happen next that will then have to be given consideration?
“So we must protect the green belt here and we must refuse and support the officer recommendation.”
Council planners confirmed that due to the retrospective nature of the application, "appropriate measures would be taken outside the meeting" to restore the land to its former condition.