Saturday, February 23, 2019

We need visitor infrastructure in Gateshead

On Wednesday I spoke in support of a planning application to extend the Woodmans pub on Fellside Road, Whickham. Gateshead's planning committee considered the plans for the creation of a function room at the pub. This was a rare event for me - supporting a development in the greenbelt. But I believe there are sound and exceptional circumstances for this development to go ahead. The tourism industry in the Derwent Valley needs more infrastructure and we need small businesses to step up to the plate to provide it. But the planning system greenbelt restrictions can act as a brake on necessary and carefully planned developments.

So, above is a video of my presentation to the planning committee and the thorough grilling I got afterwards, and below is my speech:

I want to give you three reasons to support this application.

1)we don’t have enough high quality function rooms in Gateshead.

2)the plan complements the council’s rural economic strategy.

3)we currently have inadequate infrastructure for the growing no. of visitors to the Derwent Valley.

Gateshead has major visitor attractions, such as the Sage, Baltic and Gibside.

But we need smaller scale facilities as part of our visitor economy such as small hotels, restaurants and, as in this case, function room facilities.

Co Durham, Northumberland and Newcastle have many high quality function room facilities similar to what is proposed here.

This proposal helps address that shortage in Gateshead.

It will generate 15 jobs and more business rates for Gateshead.

The Woodmans is in the greenbelt but the greenbelt was never established to pickle what is there.

Businesses in the greenbelt should be able to grow within the confines of the planning system.

As a business that has recently won national awards, it is putting Gateshead on the visitor map.

We want more of that and this development will deliver this.

Finally, the Land of Oak and Iron is a unique project.

Infrastructure is urgently needed if the project is going to give our area a long term boost.

To ensure increasing visitor numbers are catered for, we need small businesses to step up to the plate and invest in the visitor economy.

Most of the Land of Oak and Iron project area is in greenbelt.

If Oak and Iron is to be a success, some limited development is needed in the greenbelt.

Without that investment and careful development, the visitor economy in the Derwent Valley will not cope and visitor numbers could fall away.

Oak and Iron is only one of three Heritage Lottery funded landscape projects.

It conserves both the natural and industrial landscape of the area.

This application has the backing of Mick Wilkes, director of National Trust Gibside, who phoned me yesterday and asked me to put his views to the committee today.

He shares my belief that additional facilities are needed if the Derwent Valley and Land of Oak and Iron are to have a sustainable visitor economy.

Fellside Road is not without recent greenbelt development.

East Byermoor Guesthouse was given permission to build a storage shed thereby helping the business expand.

Birdhill house across the road has recently undergone a major rebuild.

Whickham Golf Club is now enjoying new facilities, opened by the mayor two years ago.

The Woodman’s application is a modest extension at the rear of the building which does not affect the openness of the greenbelt.

So, this application gives Gateshead an opportunity to compete with neighbouring areas, complements the council’s rural economic strategy and contributes towards the growing visitor economy in the Derwent Valley.

We need infrastructure in place to ensure the project’s long term success.

That is the exceptional circumstance why the greenbelt restrictions need to be relaxed in this instance and this application approved.

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