The annual Halifax seaside town review of property prices shows that Newbiggin-by-the-Sea is the cheapest seaside town in England. It’s not quite the cheapest in Great Britain though; that honour belongs to Port Bannatyne on Bute.

When I was young I’d hear two phrases involving the word ‘cheap’ : cheap and nasty, & cheap and cheerful. So with my assistant I set off to see which of those two phrases best describes Newbiggin. Actually, I need not have bothered as the very existence of a property price index tells you that you live in a mainly free market economy, with a land registry, and a secure system of protecting property rights and trade in said properties. If there was no index at all then you might be living under communism where everyone is equal or in a state of lawlessness where no secure trade occurs at all.

But a day out is a day out, so off we went. Here’s some housing shots:


There are plenty of interesting pubs and artistic shops ( a tattoo is art, even though it’s not for me – my view is you don’t put a bumper sticker on a Bugatti ).

IMG_2209IMG_2210There is open countryside towards the next nearest town of Ashington:

IMG_2225IMG_2227And best of all is the seaside itself, featuring a sculpture of a couple looking out to sea:



The plinth for that sculpture could do with being rendered the same colour as stone to make it easier on the eye.

It did help with my analysis that this is a cheerful place that we visited when the sun was out and the people we met were eccentric but welcoming. There is plenty more if you have a couple of days, such as the golf course that is losing holes to coastal erosion, the beach tractors, St Bartholomews Church, and the maritime centre which is basically a popular café first with exhibits about the history of life boats attached as a side attraction.

Newbiggin-by-the-Sea will be even more cheerful and probably just as cheap when it is finished.





Which National Park is worst?

There are 15 National Parks in England and Wales. A recent announcement has been made to include the Howgill Fells and some other territory in this protected category. So the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales will be connected up.

Nobody thinks it’s a good idea to take around 200 square miles out of National Park protection to keep the overall protected land area the same and to compensate for the reduced opportunity for innovative land use and rural development. Except me, and perhaps a few others who think protectionism has gone too far, and it is over-rated in terms of meeting public need for recreation.

This blog is an attempt to use the trip-advisor ratings on 01.12.2015 to help identify which National Park is worst and should be taken out of special protected status. The data that follows shows the ranking of the top two ‘things to do’ in National Parks in the county which contains most of that National Park. These are not necessarily the most visited attractions, ( Windermere probably draws more visitors than top-rated Derwentwater ) but the ones with the highest ratings on trip-advisor by the unsubsidised ( by government ) free market of opinion.

The Peak District – created 1951, area 555 sq mi, main county Derbyshire

1st Dovedale, Ashbourne

16th Goyt Valley

This means the 2nd to 15th best ‘things to do’ in Derbyshire are NOT in the Peak District National Park.

The Lake District – created 1951, area 885 sq mi, main country Cumbria

1st Derwentwater

2nd Catbells Lakeland Walk

A lot of the other best things to do in Cumbria are also in this National Park. Here’s a Derwent_Water,_Keswick_-_June_2009 shot of top-rated Derwentwater. It’s got actual people in it.

Snowdonia – created 1951, area 827 sq mi, main county Gwynedd

1st Ffestiniog Railway

7th Blue Lake, Fairbourne

Dartmoor – created 1951, area 369 sq mi, main county Devon

17th Lydford Gorge

42nd Burrator Reservoir

This is incredible. Of the 40 best things to do in Devon, only one is in Dartmoor. The public like tripping to Devon but they overwhelming don’t like including a trip to Dartmoor, or if they do, they certainly don’t rate it as good as the other stuff they can do outside the park boundary.


A boundary marker for the ‘Forest of Dartmoor ‘ – no trees and no people. It should be noted the term Forest on old maps often means a former royal hunting ground and doesn’t imply whether there were trees there once.  It’s still a depressingly lifeless shot.

Pembrokeshire Coast – created 1952, area 239 sq mi, main county Pembrokeshire

2nd Pembrokeshire Falconry

3rd Welsh Coastal Path

North York Moors – created 1952, area 554 sq mi, main county North Yorkshire

7th International Centre for Birds of Prey, Helmsley

17th Rievaulx Abbey

Yorkshire Dales – created 1954, area 683 sq mi, main county North Yorkshire

9th Forbidden Corner, Middleham

10th Malham Cove and Gordale

Exmoor – created 1954, area 268 sq mi, main county Somerset

Nothing. Seriously – of the 60 best things to do in Somerset none are in Exmoor. Exmoor covers a bit of Devon too, and doesn’t rate in Devon’s best things to do.

Northumberland – created 1956, area 405 sq mi, main county Northumberland

7th Keilder Observatory

13th Hadrian’s Wall

Brecon Beacons – created 1957, area 522 sq mi, main county Blaenau Gwent

11th Skirrid Mountain inn

No other attractions within the park in this county are rated.

The Broads – created 1989, area 117 sq mi, main county Norfolk

10th Horsey Beach

15th BeWILDerwood

New Forest – created 2005, area 224 sq mi, main county Hampshire

5th Paulton’s Park, home of Peppa Pig World

7th New Forest, Lyndhurst

South Downs – created 2010, area 634 sq mi,main county East Sussex

3rd Beachy Head

4th Seven Sisters Country Park

Thoughts: the clear best National Parks are the Lake District and the Pembrokeshire Coast which should be protected even if the UK population rises to 200 million.

The clear worst is Exmoor which has negligible value in terms of public enjoyment and recreation. The relevant committee should identify any bits of it which should be classed as SSSIs ( Site of Special Scientific Interest ) and then wind up the Exmoor Park Authority completely.

Dartmoor and the Brecon Beacons could justifiably be shrunk in my view.

If we don’t be selective about what landscapes we protect in the alleged interests of the public, we will end up like now where we are protecting landscapes due to the whims of a land owning elite, at unjustifiable cost, and which the public avoid.






Esh Winning – scenic football ground

The Hartlepool Mail recently listed the three most scenic football grounds in the Northern League as those at Tow Law, Esh Winning and Brandon. I asked a non-league football fan if that was fair and he said he would add Stokesley to the list.

Well after visiting the ground for their game against South Shields you have to say it’s a cracking looking place. ( The ground is actually in Waterhouses, a nearby village ).


Just before kick-off


Both food and football are popular in the North-East

Notice the wind turbines in the background. This tells you this is a ground which is not in a National Park, or an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty as wind turbines don’t get erected in such places. The way protectionists go on, you’d think that there should be no beautiful scenery anywhere else, but that’s a mistake. There is plenty of good landscape not in designated protected areas created in the 1950s. And there’s plenty of rubbish landscapes inside the 1950s protected areas.

The most enjoyable way to get to Waterhouses is along the gorgeous wooded Deerness Valley Way, an 8 mile former railway line from Durham which closed in the late 1960s. It’s got real people using it – walkers, horse-riders, cyclists and even teenagers congregating on the bridges ( not in a threatening way though ). Hey cyclists, attach a bell to your bike and use it. It’s busy.

The match itself finished 4-0 to the visitors from South Shields. This is their best known player Julio Arca who has taken a drop in class to compete. He’s a joy to watch at this level.


Morpeth to Widdrington Station

A flat lazy 10 mile walk on a Saturday afternoon when there was no football on.

This is Carlisle park in Morpeth. It’s urban parkland and the public love it – it’s got boat hire on the Wansbeck river, tennis, bowls, trees, hills, flowers and above all actual people using it. It’s walking distance from Wetherspoons too, which is nice. But don’t go drinking before hiring a rowing boat, do it the other way round.


These are some views after leaving Morpeth and going out into the Northumberland countryside.The road to Pegswood, and the overgrown path on to Longhirst.


The little reservoir in Blubbery wood and the lake in Blackdean wood.


Onto the former Widdrington opencast workings, which is being returned to fields, and finally the cricket field at Stobswood.


And in all that distance from passing the allotments on leaving Morpeth to Stobswood cricket ground I saw one other person, who was walking a dog, so presumably had to be out. The countryside – what is the point. The Barker report had it right – the British public don’t value the countryside remotely as much as they do their urban green spaces.

And finally finally, here’s a genetically deformed Viper’s Bugloss in the old railway sidings at Widdrington. The stems appear to have merged and felt as stiff as a catalogue.


A walk round Ponteland

Or more accurately a walk round the edge of Ponteland which is mainly surrounded by land designated as ‘Green Belt’. It is what you might call a ‘nice place’. They’ve got flowers, sculpture and historical buildings.


It’s also got people in expensive houses who are pretty clear that they want your attention and that they do not want more houses to built next to their town.


The greenest part of Ponteland and its surroundings is not in the Green Belt. It is of course Ponteland Park which is 18 acres of gorgeousness right in the middle of town. It’s got a river, bridges, apple trees, majestic trees, commemorative trees, sports, and most of all it has actual people using it, of which more later.


To the west of the town there is an old railway line which is used by walkers and athletes.


To the southwest there are some fields of grazing horses. This was a Tuesday lunchtime and no riders were about, but I presume that in the summer evenings and weekends people enjoy taking their equine beasts for a ride. It’s an expensive hobby, but they look like fine animals and the users don’t ask for a public subsidy as far as I know.


To the south of Ponteland is the Darras Hall estate and to the south of that is the site of an old windmill and Birney Hill Farm which is a listed building and so protected from any development within its designated boundary.


The fields that are immediately outside the boundary of Birney Hill Farm and some fields to the southeast of the town totalling well over 200 acres have recently been subject to a planning application which was unsuccessful and the Ponteland Green Belt group are ‘delighted’ about this.

Here’s what a couple of the fields in question look like:


The first is wheat, the second is rapeseed. Both are intensive agricultural land which get a piece of the UK’s £3 billion a year farm subsidies. Based on obesity statistics, insufficient food production is the least of the problems in the north-east of England or the UK generally. Note that if you own around 100 acres of farmland you are probably a millionaire based on your assets, you get subsidised diesel, an inheritance tax exemption for your land and yet you’re still getting a cheque from the government. We could do almost anything at all with these lands and we as a country would be less poor. They are green now but will be yellow for a month as the crops mature, and then brown after harvesting. We don’t label them brown field sites though, even though that is their colour for half the year. And note also that there is nobody there. The road from Callerton Hall down the east side of the land has no footpath so you take your life in your hands if you plan to walk here to enjoy the view which admittedly is nice now, but apart from me and my water carrier (!) there was nobody else visible within a mile and no-one in their right mind would attempt to come here on foot along the roads. There are no public footpaths options on the land either. The government’s 2004 Barker report was absolutely right to say that land like this has an amenity value to the public less than 1/50th of land like Ponteland Park based on what I saw this day.

For info the developer in question called Lugano had these plans for the area. The proposal failed because the land is designated Green Belt and there’s a set of rules for this which require an exceptional need be demonstrated. Whether the plans were better than what we currently have here in terms of more trees, more urban parkland, more jobs and more nice houses doesn’t really matter because the current rules are based around demonstrating exceptional need apparently.

To the east of the town there is a lot of land centred on Hold House which is owned by the Callerton Hall estate, and a couple of public footpaths cross here


Nature 1 : 0 Footpath Sign

Ponteland has nice people, a cracking urban park and fine houses. But looking at the estate agent-style signs objecting to development on the green belt, the residents do not want any more of the things that make it nice.

Oswaldtwistle Moor

This is what part of Oswaldtwistle Moor currently looks like ( not the banner picture which are turbines in the USA ). CJIoMK6WEAACsEu Depending on your view you might see this as a beautiful place. It’s a bleak windswept moor with wind turbines saving the planet from warming. Or you might see it as an ugly industrial landscape. There are actually two industries operating on this landscape. Electricity generation is an industry, and onshore wind power comes at a cost of around £95 per MwH paid to the operators, compared to around £46 per MwH for electricity generated from fossil fuels. The second industry is agriculture. Grazing sheep currently gets a subsidy of around £80/acre. So some see beauty, and some like me see taxpayers’ money being spent twice in ways that make us poorer. How many people do you see suffering from insufficient calorie intake anyway? And do we really need to pay a kick-back to landowners to produce sheep on poor quality land when at certain times of the year unsubsidised New Zealand lamb is on our supermarket shelves at around the same price. The land isn’t natural anyway as sheep will eat young trees. Some commentators say that letting the hills revert to their mixed woodland natural state before sheep arrived in Britain will reduce flood risks. Note also that the only trees in the picture are next to the farm, and also that in most shots like this only the photographer is there. If some people still insist this is attractive there is hardly anyone putting their feet where their hearts are and actually going there. The amenity value to the public of land like this is very low indeed.

Springwell Village

Springwell Village has been around since the 1820s. It lies between Gateshead and Washington, and for planning purposes falls just inside the Sunderland Local Authority area. It has no Post Office but does have excellent bus services. If you stand by the old Coop building in the daytime there is typically one every 7 minutes to somewhere and likewise on the opposite side. And at the moment if you pass through the place on a bus as I often do it is asking you to PAY ATTENTION TO US.


As you can see the Springwell Village Residents Association wants to ‘Save the Green Belt’. Even the Wesleyan chapel which has probably saved a few souls in its time is agreed that the green belt needs salvation.


I have to admit that in the summer a lot of green belt is nice to look at. Here’s an example looking towards Nissan and their wind turbines


and another looking towards Follingsby Park industrial estateIMG_1952

The woodland in the middle distance are actually Heworth and George Washington golf courses. These views and the public paths you can see them from are not under threat.

So where are the parcels of land that could be developed and what are they like?

The Springwell Village Residents Assocation has this helpful map


Plot 263 is former industrial land and housing has recently been built on it. Plots 407 and 408 are the interesting ones and have been bought by Washington property developer Hellens. Plot 407 looks like this


which has mainly wild grasses. Part of the Bowes railway line runs down the right hand side of this plot. The bigger Plot 408 looks like this


which is currently leased for grazing of horses. There are lots of buttercups and a view towards Penshaw Monument which realistically you’d need binoculars to see.

If your house backs on to one of these plots, or if you use the public footpath that divides the two pieces of land


then even when building is finished your view will be massively affected for better or worse depending if you prefer wild grasses, horses and buttercups to houses, lawns and cars.

As far as known the land currently gets no agricultural subsidies. HMRC tells us that land used for grazing leisure horses doesn’t qualify. It’s not known yet if there will be any subsidies for the developer as plans haven’t been submitted. Currently social house builders can claim a subsidy but Hellens is a commercial organisation. It’s not known either what the full terms of the sale by the previous landowner to Hellens were – the Land Registry records a sale value of £293,000 for just over 30 acres. There may be an option to buy back if planning permission fails, and there may or may not be further payments if planning permission is granted. It’s thought that water and sewerage are already in place here. It’s thought up to 300 dwellings could be accommodated which would be a bit of a squash. It’s also thought there will be plans by the developer to replace the primary school building in the village but until plans are published this isn’t clear.

Next time – more thoughts generally about development.