Colin Horncastle is in Northumberland County Council's cabinet with responsibility for the environment. Looking after the county's environment and protecting its natural beauty is one of Northumberland Conservatives' key priorities, making his role essential in protecting the county's character.
There has never been a time when the Environment has been more in the spotlight than now. As most of the world head towards a green sustainable future with carbon reduction targets, Northumberland County Council prides itself on being at the forefront of green initiatives and heading towards a Carbon Neutral situation by 2030. Northumberland is recognised as being the greenest authority in the North of England.
Our aim is to make Northumberland a pleasant county to live in and visit.
We recognise the importance of our country parks and open spaces and have invested £1.5m in improvements so people can enjoy some quiet time away from noise and traffic. We have been improving footpaths in all the county's parks to ensure they're safe and accessible, while investing in flowers and trees and additional car parking. Many features have been added to make the whole experience more enjoyable. There is now more for children to do, better facilities, even rock climbing experiences like the one at Plessey Woods Country Park. There are better litter facilities, more attractive entrances, improved drainage and water features to name just a few of the improvements. All this work is currently being carried out and will be finished by spring 2024.
The county's parks suffered terrible damage from Storm Arwen. Many of them have not only weathered the storm but won regional awards and will go forward for judging in National awards next year. Every part of the county benefits from our commitment to high standards with 13 parks being awarded prestigious Green Flag awards in 2013 in: Ashington, Bedlington, Castle Vale and Coronation Parks in Berwick, Blyth, Bolam Lake, Cramlington, Druridge Bay, Hexham, Morpeth, Plessey Woods, Prudhoe, and Seaton Delaval.
Air quality in Northumberland already meets Government standards but we want to go further. A review of our ground maintenance will take place to see what we can do better ensuring the council is greener and more efficiently run. The exciting Great Northumberland Forest will further contribute to carbon capture efforts with millions of trees planted in the county to reduce the level of CO2 in the air.
Our coastline is renowned for its beauty, we have 13 beaches designated as bathing beaches and as such subject to regular water quality tests. 11 of these beaches are rated as Excellent, two are rated as good. Hopefully soon all 13 will be rated Excellent.
We are taking action on the historical problem of landfill waste contaminating Lynemouth Bay is soon to be remedied. A £3.4m scheme has now been agreed with the Environment Agency and Coal Authority which will see contractors begin working to clean up the bay as early as next year. In Blyth we are further building on the facilities at South Beach which will help to improve the experience for visitors and grow the economy of the area.
Our rivers have never been cleaner and a valuable visitor attraction and many watersports, fishing, canoeing swimming etc taking place weather permitting. Unfortunately, there are times of heavy rain and flooding when untreated sewage is discharged into our rivers. This is beyond our control, and we are working with government to ensure water companies are held to account for this.
Affordable housing is central to our priority of tackling inequalities, and we are proud of our record delivering new affordable homes. Since 2017 we have provided nearly 2000 homes. We have ensured a tough planning process, so developers contribute to making sure their sites provide affordable homes for local people. We also generate affordable housing by working with our partners Advance, Ascent, and other registered social providers, as well as buying new houses from developers as we have done in Alnwick and Longframlington. National planning guidance is still a challenge for rural areas, but we hope to use the Hexham Middle School site to develop 150 affordable homes for residents in the west of the county.
Everything we do in the area of environmental improvement is closely linked to our priorities for Northumberland:
- Driving economic growth
- Achieving value for money
- Tackling inequalities
We are rightly proud that in my department we are helping Northumberland grow sustainably, while leading a countywide effort to improve our environment.