Another defeat for developer

APPLAUSE rang out in the council chamber as unpopular housing plans were thrown out for a third time.

More than 100 residents crammed into County Hall on Thursday, with others turned away for a lack of room, as councillors considered the latest proposals by Bellway Homes to build 186 homes near Loansdean.

And despite officers’ recommendation to approve the plans, members of a specially convened North Area Planning Committee voted four to one to reject them.

Joan Tebbutt, of the South Morpeth Coalition residents’ action group, said: “I didn’t want this meeting to happen because I didn’t want to know the result. I was shaking all the way through, but it is fantastic, a great result.

“If it goes to appeal then we will fight it all again.”

An application to build 200 homes on the site was refused by the county council in February last year, but when the developer appealed the authority pulled out of defending it at the 11th hour in a decision made behind closed doors.

The South Morpeth Coalition was left to defend the challenge and was victorious when the appeal was dismissed in August 2012. However, Bellway challenged the ruling over housing need figures and the matter is currently being reconsidered by a different planning inspector.

In the meantime the developer submitted a revised bid for the site south of The Chip for 186 homes, with 50 per cent affordable housing.

Amendments included an increase in homes for affordable rent, changes to a roundabout on the A197 and increased landscaping.

A total of 223 objections were submitted, including from Morpeth and Ponteland civic societies, and Morpeth Town and Hepscott Parish councils also wrote in opposition. There were no submissions in support.

Objectors said the scheme would be outside the settlement boundary in open countryside, was not needed, could lead to flooding and other sites would be more suitable, while sewerage capacity, congestion and loss of greenery were also highlighted.

The plans were also labelled premature as the community is currently drawing up a Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan to determine where development should take place.

Resident Pat Snowdon summed up the issues in a rousing speech, also pointing out that residents and experts had not been given sufficient time to respond to updated flood assessments by the developer.

She said: “We are representing the local knowledge of the residents you see around you. They know this development is wrong for Loansdean, wrong for Hepscott and wrong for Morpeth.”

Councillors David Parker and Andrew Tebbutt also spoke against the plans, and the committee heard that county officers had raised noise concerns and required further information on flood prevention proposals.

A spokesman for the applicant said there was a need for housing, particularly affordable, the plans had been amended to include more open space and landscaping, noise disturbance could be prevented and the scheme should be approved.

But Coun Anthony Murray, followed by Dougie Watkin proposed refusal over concerns about flooding, sewerage, greenfield development, congestion and extension of the settlement boundary.

There were heated scenes when committee Chairman John Taylor asked officers to confirm that the reasons could stand and threatened to close the meeting when a member of the public strongly questioned the procedure. However, the resident reluctantly left the meeting and the vote went ahead.

Afterwards Coun Andrew Tebbutt said: “It’s fantastic. It was a decision for common sense. It just did not make sense to do anything other than reject that application. It is brilliant for the South Morpeth Coalition.”

Coun Parker added: “The town council welcomes the committee’s decision as it leaves open the possibility of Morpeth people, rather than developers, determining through the Neighbourhood Plan where new housing will be located.”

And Coun Glen Sanderson, who represents Hepscott, said: “I think it is a substantial victory for local people. At the moment Morpeth seems to be flooded by opportunist and unwelcome applications on all sides. These applications are all too early and developers should be advised to wait until such time as the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan is in place.”

A spokesman for Bellway said: “We remain hopeful that a planning decision in favour of Bellway providing family and affordable homes will be forthcoming.”