Demonstration against retail and housing plans at key Morpeth site

Some of the people who attended the demonstration against the residential and commercial proposals.
Some of the people who attended the demonstration against the residential and commercial proposals.

Morpeth residents have delivered a resounding Christmas message to Northumberland County Council about major plans for a key location.

Dozens of people attended a demonstration in the town centre against the applications that have been submitted at the current County Hall (residential scheme) and former fire station and Merley Croft (retail development) sites.

Donations are continuing to be made in large numbers and the total amount is now approaching £11,000.

The South Morpeth Coalition (SMC), which is leading the campaign, has now revised its target to £12,500 as it is seeking further funds to engage the extent of legal services that will increase its chances of success.

A full planning application was lodged last month for the commercial scheme. It includes retail floorspace, a food store, drive-thru restaurant and family pub/restaurant.

An outline bid for up to 200 new homes was submitted earlier this month.

SMC member David Holden said: “It’s great that people have been digging deep, particularly at this time of year when they have other commitments.

“It also gives us great heart to see all the objections that have already been put forward against both applications and there was an excellent turnout for the demonstration in the town centre.

“The pace at which these applications were progressed, coming hot on the heels of the consultation event, means that we expect they will be up before the planning committee in the spring – well before the elections in May.”

The crowdfunding site can be found at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Save-our-Plan

There were a total of 718 responses to the questionnaire that was produced for the consultation event at County Hall in early November and 77 per cent were against the housing and commercial developments.

Morpeth resident Paul Scott, who attended the demonstration, said: “The potential value of the land and how a receipt would be spent is not a justification for these developments.

“Development should be plan led, and these proposals are anything but as they are very much against the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan.

“The administration champions its market towns initiative, but how will a significant edge-of-town retail park with more than 300 parking spaces benefit Morpeth when all existing retail is in the town centre? It will do significant harm to the town centre.

“The proposal for a fast food drive-thru directly opposite the new Morpeth First School highlights how ill-thought out and short-sighted this scheme is.”

To see the applications at www.northumberland.gov.uk the planning references are 16/04292/FUL (retail) and 16/04498/OUT (residential).

Meanwhile, county council leader Grant Davey has been criticised for his actions during the debate on the motion to delay the finalisation of contracts for the County Hall move to Ashington earlier this month.

Richard Wearmouth of Morpeth and Wansbeck Conservatives attended the full council meeting and he said that Coun Davey ‘mocked’ the Morpeth residents who are opposed to his controversial proposals by putting on a child’s voice when he criticised them for apparently not wanting any new development in the town.

He added: “I have spoken to a number of residents also present at the debate who were shocked at what they saw. They have been asking why their legitimate objections to this council’s proposals were mocked.

“Even those who disagree with the County Hall move have no issue with Coun Davey making his case for his controversial proposal, but they do expect better behaviour from their council leader.”

Coun Davey said in response that his comments “were aimed squarely at a Conservative councillor who doesn’t even live in the town and his group, and certainly not anyone in Morpeth”.

He added: “It is unfortunate if my approach on this occasion is being misinterpreted as derogatory.

“I was simply expressing my frustration that opposing councillors seemed intent on delaying or stalling proposals that will provide huge benefits to people across Northumberland.

“I would repeat what I said during full council – it is my honest opinion that the Conservatives have ignored and let down their constituents in every ward they hold to concentrate on one issue in the town of Morpeth.”