Queues formed outside Morpeth Town Hall as residents crammed into a hearing on the bid to build 396 homes at Stobhill.
A planning inquiry opened on Tuesday to consider plans by Barratt David Wilson Homes and Tees Valley Housing to develop land between the A196 and A192.
They have appealed over non-determination, and Northumberland County Council is defending the appeal after members said they would refuse the scheme over highway issues and unsustainable development in the open countryside, contrary to the developing strategy for Morpeth.
The Hepscott and Morpeth Together group (HMT), made up of Morpeth Town Council, Hepscott Parish Council and the Morpeth Action Group, is also fighting the application after a 455-name petition was submitted against it.
Inspector Pete Drew will make a recommendation to Secretary of State Eric Pickles, who will decide the outcome.
Mr Drew said there are ten main issues – character and appearance of the area, effect on the road network, housing supply, flooding and sewage, school capacity, noise and disturbance, affordable housing, emerging planning policies, sustainability and whether the adverse impacts of the proposal would significantly outweigh the benefits.
Sasha White QC, on behalf of Barratt’s, said the council agrees that it cannot comply with Government policy for a five-year supply of housing, that Morpeth is an appropriate place for housing and that the site has satisfied flooding, ecology, design and residential-amenity issues.
And he described the authority’s opposition on grounds of sustainability, landscape harm, highways and accessibility to services as ‘bewildering and inconsistent’ as it has taken a different view of applications for Loansdean and Northgate.
“An impartial observer would be staggered by the unfairness of the approach to three very comparative housing sites on the edge of Morpeth,” he said.
“In the case of two, they sail serenely to permission without objection and yet in this case every possible hurdle is placed in the way of consent. It is our case that overall Stobhill is actually the best of the three.”
He added that the urgent need for housing in Morpeth should outweigh the concerns.
Simon Pickles, for the council, said the adverse impacts of the development would significantly outweigh the benefits, and that it would result in ‘a substantial, prominent and irreversible urban intrusion into open, intact, attractive, productive agricultural countryside’.
He said traffic from the site would add to congestion, and that there are ‘clear-cut points of distinction’ from Loansdean.
Coun Joan Tebbutt, for HMT, said affordable homes must be in the right place, highlighting the preference for development north of the town. She spoke of concerns about flooding, accessibility, sustainability and congestion.
“Morpeth is a small rural market town. Its character and level of infrastructure provision are major considerations in deciding where to expand, the nature of that expansion and the right time for that expansion if Morpeth as a whole is to be sustainable. Environmentally, socially and economically, it is important that the right decisions be made,” she said.
“We will endeavour to convince you that the appeal proposal is not sustainable and has the potential to cause significant harm.”