Council ‘owes town an apology’

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MORPETH residents are owed an apology from County Hall over the handling of Bellway’s Loansdean housing appeal, a senior councillor has said.

The Herald revealed last week that Planning Inspector Malcolm Rivett had dismissed the developer’s bid to build 200 homes at South Loansdean, saying it would be outside the settlement boundary and harm the countryside, while there is ample housing supply already.

Morpeth Town Council opposed the plans, arguing that they would hamper the ability of local residents to determine preferred development sites in forming a Neighbourhood Plan.

And Coun David Parker, who represented the authority at the inquiry, has welcomed the Inspector’s ruling.

But he hit out at Northumberland County Council for refusing to defend its decision to reject the initial Bellway application, leaving residents’ group the South Morpeth Coalition to fight the case.

“I think the county council should issue a statement relating to its decision. The appeal has been decided now, but I think what the county council did was regrettable and it should be apologising,” he said.

“It ought to have been at the appeal in a much more formal way than it was to defend its own decision. The fact that the council didn’t do that is unfortunate and a lot of local people were left in a very difficult position.

“The town council welcomes the Inspector’s decision and I applaud the efforts of the South Morpeth Coalition to keep the appeal going in light of the county council’s regrettable decision not to defend it.”

However, Coun Parker said the appeal has helped to clarify points for the creation of a Neighbourhood Plan.

“Because the Inspector turned down the appeal it means that the town council can build on the arguments it put forward in relation to neighbourhood planning,” he said.

“The people of the town can now deliberate over the next 12 months or so to set out where development should be and inform the county council’s Local Plan as well.

“Because the inspector has also taken a pretty strong position in relation to housing need, there is no desperate need for significant development in Morpeth for the next year or two. This is helpful because it means that the people of Morpeth can take a longer term view in relation to where development should take place.

“The fact that the Inspector has upheld a number of Castle Morpeth Local Plan policies, particularly in relation to settlement boundaries, means that we also know that development outside those boundaries is ruled out, certainly to the south of the town.”

Northumberland County Council Director of Local Services Caroline Bruce said: “The council will be carefully examining the Inspector’s report to fully assess the implications of the decision for the future sustainable development of Morpeth.”

“Consideration must also be given to the outcome of the inquiry for the delivery of new housing across Northumberland in the light of the Coalition Government’s objectives for growth as expressed in the National Planning Policy Framework.”