Developer launches double assault on housing bid

HOUSING developer Bellway is launching a two-pronged attack to build homes in south Morpeth.

The construction giant was defeated by residents’ group the South Morpeth Coalition in August when an inspector ruled in favour of the objectors and dismissed Bellway’s appeal to build 200 homes and a commercial centre at Loansdean.

After an inquiry in Morpeth Town Hall Planning Inspector Malcolm Rivett found that breaching the settlement boundary for the scheme would cause significant harm to the countryside that could not be outweighed by benefits such as affordable housing.

But the developer has refused to give up the fight and is now planning on challenging the decision in the High Court, as well as preparing to submit a new application next month.

It is arguing that Mr Rivett has made some mathematical errors in his analysis.

But Joan Tebbutt, who was one of three residents to represent the coalition group at the appeal, said: “We are absolutely furious. We don’t know how this has come about. It is just big business bulldozing the people.

“We don’t have a clue what is going to come out in the new application until it is actually submitted and it is there to look at. I don’t know whether Bellway will change the balance of affordable housing because one of the inspector’s criticisms was that what was needed was more affordable rented housing, or whether it will take out the commercial unit. We have no idea.

“We have put out a leaflet to make people aware of what is going on.

“We had so many e-mails from people across the town saying how well we had done and how proud they were of us for fighting the appeal, and saying how right the decision was. They really believed in what we were doing and this is just like a slap in the face for those people.”

Bellway Corporate Affairs Manager Julian Kenyon said: “We have now had an opportunity to digest the content of the inspector’s report, which in our view has some mathematical errors embedded within it that go to the heart of the inspector’s conclusions.

“We have taken legal advice from several sources and believe that we have strong grounds to challenge the decision in the High Court. We will therefore be lodging a High Court Challenge under Section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 in London before October 10.

“In addition, we will be re-submitting a further planning application to Northumberland County Council in November.

“Discussions are being held with our development team over the next month which will decide the shape of the new application.”

A report will go before the council’s North Area Planning Committee tonight (Thursday) to advise members of the outcome of the appeal.

The committee rejected the Bellway plans in February against officer advice, but just weeks before the appeal hearing began the council pulled out of defending it. The decision was taken in secret so it is not known why, although the authority cited the publication of the new National Planning Policy Framework.

The report into the issue, compiled by North Area Development Manager Peter Rutherford, questions a number of the inspector’s findings.

It says settlement boundaries need to be reviewed as part of the Local Plan making process to ensure appropriate growth for Morpeth, there has been confusion in the inspector’s interpretation of five year housing land supply, misunderstanding of affordable housing that may have led to inaccurate calculations, and a number of contradictions.

Mrs Tebbutt said: “This report is horrendous. The officers haven’t got the gumption to say ‘we were wrong’. It’s appalling.

“The committee members have over 300 pages to read for the meeting, they have got to have time to consider this. I think they have to say ‘hold back, let’s talk to Morpeth Town Council and the coalition in an open forum and discuss this properly’.

“It seems that the Goliath machine is on the move and the officers aren’t doing anything to protect us.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We have now considered the inspector’s report in detail. A report on this and planned future work by the council is being reported to the North Area Planning Committee this Thursday.”

The meeting will take place at Alnwick Council Chamber in Clayport Street, Alnwick, at 6pm.