A group of residents has warned that approving a scheme for new housing in south Morpeth would set a precedent for development in the area.
The inquiry regarding Bellway Homes North East’s plans for land south of The Chip at Loansdean came to an end on Friday morning with the closing submissions.
One of the South Morpeth Coalition (SMC) speakers, Joan Tebbutt, voiced concerns that allowing up to 200 new homes to be built on the site would have major consequences.
She said: “I demonstrated (in my evidence) that the site is in the wrong place as setting a precedent and the potential for urban sprawl are serious issues in relation to the appeal site.
“The appellant’s claims of providing a ‘defensible boundary’ were shown to be hypocritical, since Bellway has applied for the field immediately to the south, which has a capacity for 300 homes, to be included in the next revised Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment.
“The issue of precedent is a clear danger and we ask you, sir, to consider it carefully in the light of what that would mean in terms of the strategy for development to the north, the lack of potential funding to delivery of infrastructure to both north and south and the fact that the majority of facilities lie north of the river.”
Another issue she raised was that it is a greenfield site in the countryside outside the settlement boundary and development would result in the loss of trees in a designated landscape corridor, and she argued the land is not the right type as the field is among the best agricultural land in Northumberland.
Mrs Tebbutt added: “SMC has demonstrated that the proposals would breach the clear divide between the built-up part of Morpeth and the open countryside beyond it.
“Precedent set by approval of the appellant’s proposals would lead to pre-determination of the emerging Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plan. I pointed out that, under new National Planning Practice Guidance, the inspector can dismiss this appeal on the grounds of prematurity without having to establish exceptional circumstances.
“We believe that we have demonstrated that this community is involved, has the skills and can be trusted to build a plan-led system. We ask you to continue to allow us to have that opportunity.”
In response to the question of precedent, Bellway representative Ian Dove QC said in his closing submission the suggestion that this proposal would pave the way for further development to the south is ‘no part of the present proposals and therefore irrelevant to the assessment of this scheme on its merits’.
He added: “The decision of the Secretary of State in Tarporley makes clear that where a Neighbourhood Plan does not exist even as a draft, let alone a final version, little if any weight can be given to it in the decision-making process.
“The Secretary of State formed that view in that case notwithstanding the concern of the inspector in his report that the appeal should be refused because of the impact which it would have on the Neighbourhood Plan process in which that community was engaged.
“It has been established through the appeal proposals that appropriate and necessary infrastructure to support development to the south of the town can clearly be provided.”
On the issue of the landscape, he said: “It is the county council’s evidence base which demonstrates that the landscape character is low quality and in need of restoration, and that it is of low sensitivity to change and therefore an appropriate location for development.
“Whilst trees will need to be lost in order to facilitate the access, the replanting of trees both in this vicinity and throughout the site creates a substantial overall gain in terms of tree cover as a result of either proposal.”
Half of the SMC closing submission was read by David Holden. He said that the group had used Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) data for its housing supply figures because even though Northumberland County Council has acknowledged that RSS was revoked in 2013, it will continue to use RSS figures until they are replaced by housing need figures contained in an adopted Local Development Plan.
He criticised the evidence on behalf of Bellway by James Hall, which referred to a study carried out by Open House that included Jobs Fixed housing figures he claims are needed to prevent many young adults from leaving the town.
Mr Holden said: “The county council’s Core Strategy preferred option included a target employment growth of 3,000 jobs, whereas Mr Hall’s preferred Jobs Fixed scenario required delivery of thousands more housing units with zero job creation, and the Core Strategy states that if it were to plan for more homes to deliver the higher economic growth scenario, the level of development would be too high to be accommodated without impacting negatively on Northumberland’s unique environment.
“In both cases, Mr Hall was unable to provide a credible argument to defend his position.”
He added that the SMC believes the five-year requirement for new housing will be met through a range of sites, including the former St George’s Hospital and Northgate Hospital, but Mr Dove said now that the RSS has been revoked, the council’s housing land supply figure is “pitiful”.
The QC concluded: “There is an undeniable and extensive need for further housing development in Morpeth, which is a sustainable settlement and one which performs an important role as a rural service centre.
“Those necessary homes, which are required now, are not going to be delivered any time soon on the complex redundant hospital sites to the north of the town. There is no forward planning solution which is being promptly produced to deliver a solution to these needs.”
He also argued that substantial benefits are to be gained by the provision of affordable housing at the site, but Mr Holden said the affordable housing proposed is biased towards the type least required in Northumberland and so the weight given to this aspect should be substantially reduced.
The planning inspector, Philip Major, told those in attendance that the decision should be published in May or June. On Friday afternoon, he carried out a site visit.
l In last week’s inquiry report, we included the comments of resident Wendy Stafford, describing her as a retired headteacher. In fact, she is a retired deputy headteacher. We apologise for the error.