Have your say on neighbourhood plan’s future vision for local area

Morpeth Mayor Nic Best at Morpeth Town Hall launching The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan.'REF 0901158012
Morpeth Mayor Nic Best at Morpeth Town Hall launching The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan.'REF 0901158012

Members of the public are being urged to put forward their views on a document that will help shape future development in a town and some of its surrounding villages.

The consultation period for the draft version of the full Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan has got under way and it will run until Wednesday, February 25.

It includes an overall vision, objectives, policies and actions for the town centre, as well as Hebron, Hepscott, Mitford and Pegswood, through to 2031.

The document, which has been put together by a steering group, states how it will aim to play its part in strengthening Morpeth’s role and competitiveness as a rural service centre with a high-quality retail sector and a broad mix of local and visitor attractions.

It will also look to accommodate growth whilst protecting the town’s integrity, its rural setting and the green approaches which extend into the town.

Key to these goals are a ‘river corridor’ development concept, including the potential for an improved leisure centre and a new arts, performance and heritage centre.

Important development sites include The Willows, the former Oldgate Post office, the Morpeth Police Station site (Northumbria Police announced last year that the officers and staff there will be moving to a new location at a future date), the former Newgate Street Registrar’s Office and the former Benfield Garage.

Alongside this, landscape corridors and wildlife corridors planning policies are being proposed to protect the green approaches that add to the characteristic setting of Morpeth and the surrounding villages as well as the open character of the river, burns and other watercourses.

There are other policies and community actions for various topics such as heritage, housing, transport, sport, arts and leisure, drainage and resilience against flooding and education.

The remaining objectives include making Morpeth’s character, sense of community and setting as a historic market town even stronger, developing Pegswood as a more sustainable settlement and retaining the existing characters and identities of Hebron, Hepscott and Mitford by maintaining tight settlement boundaries around the villages and Morpeth.

Town Mayor Nic Best, who is also a member of the neighbourhood plan steering group, said: “The document is being prepared by volunteers and local residents, not planners, in line with people’s wishes expressed through the Issues and Options consultation carried out in October 2013.

“This consultation is your opportunity to let us know if we have got it right.

“The plan has to be aligned with national planning policy and the emerging Northumberland County Council Core Strategy, but we believe that its specific and detailed policies will enable us to shape the development of our communities over the next two decades without the loss of their special and distinctive character.

“It is frustrating that, currently, planning decisions continue to be taken without reference to this emerging Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, but a substantial positive response in this consultation and in future stages of the process will allow it to be given increasing weight by the planners as it moves towards adoption.

“Therefore, it’s important that residents do take the time to put forward their views and we’re asking for more detailed comments than at the Issues and Options stage.”

When it comes to housing, the numbers are covering a 20-year period (2011 to 2031). In Morpeth, there are have been 50 completions over the last three years and 71 homes are currently under construction.

With approvals for big sites at Fairmoor, Loansdean and Stobhill over the last eight months, there are now 1,136 units with approval, but the steering group is sticking with its 1,500 total for Morpeth.

Members will say to the county council that its revised figure of 1,900 for the plan period in its draft core strategy should be reduced and the remaining homes should be located at the designated St George’s area in the north of the town.

The plan document is available online at www.themorpethneighbourhoodplan.org.uk

Even though the rooms at the Town Hall are currently closed due to extensive toilet works, information about the plan will be available in the Butter Market and there will be an exhibition of data in Morpeth Library from February 2 to 13.

In addition, residents can have a chat with members of the steering group in Morpeth Market Place on Saturday between 10am and 1pm.