Final appeal to throw out housing plan

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A FINAL plea has been made by residents to throw out controversial housing plans.

Scores of people have shown their opposition to a bid by Bellway Homes to build 200 properties on the edge of Morpeth as residents turned out in force for a five-day planning inquiry.

The objectors were led by the South Morpeth Coalition residents’ action group, which was forced to take on the role of the lead party in defending Northumberland County Council’s decision to reject the initial application when the authority pulled out of the process at the last minute.

And as the hearing drew to a close on Tuesday, coalition member Joan Tebbutt urged Planning Inspector Malcolm Rivett to listen to local concerns.

She said: “The ministerial foreword to National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states, ‘in recent years planning has tended to exclude, rather than to include people and communities. In part, this has been a result of targets being imposed and decisions taken by bodies remote from them.

“‘People have been put off from getting involved because planning policy itself has become so elaborate and forbidding — the preserve of specialists, rather than people in communities. This National Planning Policy Framework changes that.’

“We believe that we have demonstrated that this community does want to be involved, has the skills and can be trusted to build a plan-led system. We ask you to give us that opportunity.”

The main thrust of the appeal focused on the need for new housing, particularly affordable units, with Bellway proposing that half of its homes on the Loansdean site would be classed as ‘affordable’.

The coalition questioned the methodology used by the applicant to justify the need for housing, saying there is a robust surplus of supply already identified in the area for the next five years.

And on affordable housing, the group said only 33 of the Bellway properties would be for rent, while the remaining 67 would be offered for sale at a 30 per cent discount of market price, which would still be above the price range of most people in need of affordable homes.

Members added that sites to the north of the town would be more appropriate.

Coalition Chairman David Holden said: “Approval of this appeal purely for delivery of the promised affordable housing would set a considerable precedent for development to the south. This proposal is not of sufficient significance to dictate that the reasoning behind the saved policies can be disregarded and the council’s strategy for development to the north of the town should be put in jeopardy.”

The coalition also argued that the appeal site is unsuitable as it is in open countryside, on good quality agricultural land and outside the settlement boundary, which could well have been Green Belt if local government re-organisation had not halted the completion of a Local Development Framework.

Members said the Loansdean site is unsustainable as there are no employment opportunities nearby and it is poorly served by shops, schools and services.

And other concerns were raised about flooding, the appearance, need and impact of a commercial unit and the prematurity of the application when a Neighbourhood Plan and Local Development Framework are being created.

The coalition said there is already evidence that Bellway has interest in developing a plot next to the appeal site and warned that south Morpeth would be left with no protection from opportunistic development if the plans are approved.

The group added that the scheme does not comply with ‘saved’ policies in the Castle Morpeth Local Plan, which should still carry full weight in decisions.

However, Bellway representative Andrew Williamson said little weight can be attached to the Local Plan as it is out of date, going back to 2003, and does nothing to deliver one of the main objectives of new national planning policy — the supply of housing.

He added that a new Local Plan has still not been completed and was doubtful that the Neighbourhood Plan will be delivered within 18 months.

Mr Williamson said the council can not demonstrate a five-year housing land supply for the area and levels of affordable provision are at a critical level, with the applicants’ figures based on the most up to date evidence.

He said the amount of affordable housing offered through the Bellway development should be an important consideration.

“In a case where the offer of affordable housing was in the more normal range between ten per cent and 30 per cent this issue might be less decisive,” he said.

“The lower the percentage of affordable housing on offer the less this can be used as a specific justification for the whole scheme.

“From its inception, the present scheme was built around its affordable housing offer. In practical terms the 50 per cent offer is likely to be the highest for any market based scheme.

“If the policy tool of the new framework relating to affordable housing is ever going to apply to a scheme, this is it.”

Mr Williamson said the proposal would balance the need for development with enhancing the landscape and that transport assessments have shown that there would not be an adverse impact on highways.

He said there was no evidence that sites to the north of Morpeth would be more sustainable.

“Ultimately, it is a simple point. The appeal site’s convenient accessibility to the main employment areas to the south, Tyneside, offsets the claimed advantages for sites lying to the north,” he said.

He said that a flood risk assessment had been carried out and neither Northumbrian Water nor the Environment Agency opposed the scheme, and that the plans follow the presumption in favour of sustainable development without prejudicing the emerging local plans.

“South Morpeth Coalition are to be congratulated in their thorough and comprehensive presentation of their objections sustained over the full length of the inquiry. However, public objection is not in itself a reason to refuse planning permission,” he added.