Outcry at after-hours bid by supermarket

A BID to relax licensing restrictions for the new Morpeth supermarket has been criticised by councillors.

Morrisons is seeking permission to extend the licensing hours for the Dark Lane store from 6am to midnight.

But its opening hours are restricted to 8am to 10pm through planning conditions.

And members of Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee fear the licensing application could be a way of increasing the opening times.

Coun Nic Best said: “They are proposing an extension to licensing hours from 6am to midnight, which is way beyond the planning condition times for opening.

“There are very limited reasons for objecting to licensing applications. They will get this permission and then apply for a variation to the condition of opening hours.”

He said it is important that the opening restrictions remain to avoid disturbance to residents of Staithes Lane.

“These opening hours were put in place because people didn’t want deliveries before seven in the morning or after 11 or 12 o’clock at night. If this is the first stage of opening the store for longer they are going to have deliveries at four or five in the morning and 11 or 12 o’clock at night,” he said.

“That is going to interfere with children as it could disturb them. If cars are coming out of the car park they are going to have their lights on, shining in the upstairs windows of houses. It is a real problem.

“If this application is likely to lead to an extension of opening hours it will have an impact on children, public nuisance and public disturbance because of the delivery times.”

Fellow councillors shared the concerns and will write to Northumberland County Council, which will determine the application, to outline their fears.

Coun Les Cassie said: “We can surely state very clearly that we can’t understand why they are applying for something at a time when the shop is closed.”

Coun Best also suggested writing to the county’s planning enforcement officer to keep a check on the kinds of goods sold at the store to ensure limits on the sale of non-food items are retained.

He said: “Another planning condition is that the store will be restricted to food stuffs. Since construction of the new store started the existing one has started extending its range in the number of non-food items. They are obviously going to say ‘we have been selling them in the existing shop therefore we can sell them in the bigger shop’.

“I would like to write to the planning enforcement officer saying we are concerned that it is going beyond the conditions.”

A spokesman for Morrisons denied the claims.

He said: “We apply for the maximum licensing hours possible to allow for flexibility at times like Christmas. Sometimes we might want to open a bit earlier in the morning to give people more shopping time. This would make it possible.

“We are moving towards Christmas now so we may be selling different goods, but we are a fresh food specialist and our focus will always be on fresh food.”