Holding direction on County Hall schemes

Protesters at County Hall ahead of last weeks planning meeting. Picture by Jane Coltman.
Protesters at County Hall ahead of last weeks planning meeting. Picture by Jane Coltman.
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Controversial schemes for a commercial development, 200 homes and a school on the County Hall site in Morpeth have been put on hold after government intervention.

As reported last week, a majority of councillors on Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee backed the three applications in the face of strong opposition.

However, the committee was only minded to approve the trio of applications, subject to a decision on whether the Secretary of State will call them in to make his own decision.

It has now been confirmed that a holding direction has been issued ‘in order that no decisions can be issued while a full assessment for call-in is undertaken’.

This ability to delay the decision is an additional power given to the Secretary of State on top of the usual call-in process.

The intervention has been welcomed by groups opposing the plans, including the South Morpeth Coalition (SMC) residents’ group and the Morpeth Chamber of Trade.

The SMC’s David Holden said: “This is hopefully the first step towards the plans being called in by the Secretary of State and for the decision-making powers to be removed from the council.

“The resolutions passed at the planning committee made a mockery of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan which was endorsed by nearly 4,000 residents last year with a 93.4 per cent majority.

“Retail and housing are not suitable uses for this site which is clear in the plan.”

Chamber chairman, Jacky Beesley, added: “An edge-of-town retail park and a small market town do not mix and I hope this view is shared by central government. The principle of a new school is supported, but the suggested location opposite the entrance to the proposed retail park and fast-food drive-thru should be looked at again.”