RESIDENTS will be forced to go it alone in the fight to block a Morpeth housing development – again.
Northumberland County Council has announced that it will not defend an appeal by Bellway Homes against its decision to refuse permission for 186 properties at Loansdean.
It is the second time the authority has made such a decision behind closed doors after backing out of an inquiry last year into its rejection of a 200-home scheme for the same site.
At that time the South Morpeth Coalition residents’ group led the opposition and saw the appeal dismissed. However, Bellway threatened to challenge the ruling in the High Court and the Planning Inspectorate agreed to hold a fresh hearing.
That will take place in Morpeth Town Hall next month, alongside Bellway’s latest appeal over the revised application.
After taking legal advice, the council’s North Area Planning Committee has decided that it can not present a robust case on either application due to new information on drainage and highways and a review against national planning policy.
Council officers will still attend the inquiry to provide information on technical issues.
Council Leader Grant Davey said: “The famous Liberal economist John Maynard Keynes once said, ‘when the facts change, I change my mind’, and we’ve taken the decision that the Loansdean appeal would not be a prudent use of council resources as new evidence has cast a significant doubt over the council’s case.”
However, the South Morpeth Coalition is ready to take on the fight.
Member David Holden said: “We were expecting this, but we are disappointed by the council’s decision.
“The South Morpeth Coalition is going to be defending both appeals. We are working all day and night to prepare for this.”
The group will argue that the schemes are outside the settlement boundary in open countryside, unsustainable and pose a flood risk, while there is no shortage of housing supply or brownfield sites. However, it is now unable to highlight congestion issues.
“Because the council has decided not to appeal, it won’t be presenting evidence on the congestion at Telford Bridge,” said Mr Holden.
“The coalition does not have any resources for traffic experts so we will not be defending that particular reason for refusal. It is too difficult for lay people to challenge the modelling of highways’ consultants successfully.
“We will present evidence regarding both applications. They are pretty similar and the core issues will be applicable to both.”
Morpeth town councillor David Parker said there is still town-wide opposition to the Bellway plans.
“I am very disappointed and a bit surprised by the county council’s decision,” he said.
“Clearly it is not very helpful to the people of Morpeth.
“It is pretty clear from what has happened previously that there is a substantial number of people in the south of the town who are very much against both applications, but also, through the Neighbourhood Plan process and the consultation, it is extremely clear that the vast majority of people in the whole of the Morpeth area think that development should be in the north of the town, not the south.
“Obviously the decision of the county council not to defend its own decision is very regrettable.”
County councillor for the Loansdean area Andrew Tebbutt was also dismayed at the county’s response.
He said: “I’m bitterly disappointed that the county council isn’t listening to the people of the area and defending what most people think is a most important boundary line for the town.
“I will be giving my full support to the South Morpeth Coalition and I can only hope that it will be as successful at this appeal as it was at the one in July 2012.”
The hearing is scheduled to begin on March 18.