Tyne & Wear

Council denies conflict of interest in The Valley planning row

The Valley, High West Jesmond
Image caption The land in High West Jesmond is known as The Valley, Blackies Valley or Little Dene

Residents trying to prevent building on land near their homes by having it designated a village green have accused the council of a conflict of interest.

Newcastle City Council has indicated it might sell The Valley in High West Jesmond for sheltered housing.

It looked "suspicious" that it would also decide on the village green application, residents said.

The authority said it was "not an unusual situation".

Friends of the Valley and the Little Dene secretary John Stephenson said: "Our concern is that, where a council is the authority promoting the development, there must be a conflict of interest when it is also acts as the Commons Registration Authority."

These authorities decide on village green and common land applications. It is an offence to build on land with this status.

Image copyright John Stephenson
Image caption Residents said The Valley had been a well-used community resource for many years

"The council will obviously ensure that it deals with the application properly and in accordance with its statutory duties," the council spokesman said.

East Gosforth Liberal Democrat councillor and resident Peter Leggott said: "However well intentioned it is, it will always look a little bit suspicious if it's two branches of the council."

The council, which is aiming to make £138,150 savings on legal costs this year, has paid a London barrister £1,650, including VAT, to draw up a legal argument against village green status.

It was "appropriate to seek external advice" and the fees represented "value for money", the council spokesman said.

In 2013 the authority identified a number of potential sites for sheltered housing.

The Valley had not been marketed and there have been no discussions with developers, it said.

"Should the eventual outcome be that it goes forward as a site for development, then any proposals would be subject to the statutory planning process, including local consultation with councillors and residents," a spokesman said.

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