THE fight to block housing development on the edge of Morpeth could be heading back to round one.
Plans by Bellway to build 200 homes on a greenfield site in Loansdean were thrown out by Planning Inspector Malcolm Rivett in August.
Bellway had been challenging the decision in the High Court, with a hearing scheduled for yesterday.
However, last week the Planning Inspectorate conceded the case over a dispute on affordable housing figures.
Now the inspector’s ruling has been quashed and a second planning inquiry is likely.
The news is a bitter blow to the South Morpeth Coalition residents’ group, which successfully defended the original appeal when Northumberland County Council pulled out.
Chairman David Holden said: “We have had a bundle of documents from Bellway and its lawyers for months now and the Planning Inspectorate should have filed its case some time ago as it was due to be heard on Wednesday at the High Court, but at the end of last week we were notified that it has conceded the case.
“It is disappointing because we feel that the Planning Inspectorate had a strong-enough case to defend this challenge.”
The group is now facing a fight on two fronts as not only is a fresh inquiry looming, but Bellway has also submitted a new application for 186 houses at the site.
Mr Holden said: “Now the appeal decision has been quashed we could have to defend another appeal so we have to be ready for that to come forward, but we also have the new application, which we have submitted objection documents for and we are waiting for that to come before the county planning committee.
“These two things could be coming to a head at the same time. Bellway has two bites of the cherry. It is frustrating because we feel that we have been let down by officialdom once again. First the county council refused to defend the appeal and now the Planning Inspectorate has failed to stand behind its decision.
“The difficult thing for us is that we all have jobs and we are trying to do this work in our spare time.”
The Bellway plans had initially been rejected by the county’s North Area Planning Committee in February last year against officer advice.
The developer lodged an appeal and an inquiry date was set, but, with just weeks to go, the council pulled out and said it would not defend the appeal, leaving the residents’ group to go it alone.
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Members mounted a fierce defence of the original decision in the hearing at Morpeth Town Hall and were delighted when Mr Rivett ruled in their favour.
He said that breaching the Morpeth settlement boundary would cause significant harm to the countryside, policies from the outdated Local Plan were still relevant and the importance of the affordable housing element of the scheme was diminished as there were few social rented properties included and the discounted market rates could be too costly. He also found that there was an adequate supply of housing in the area.
Mr Holden said: “We are adamant that we still have a very strong case given the inspector’s comments about the local policies still being valid and the settlement boundary.
“There are alternative sites at St George’s for housing, where there are going to be 300 houses coming forward on a brownfield site, which is much more sustainable.
“We have put together an extensive document to fight Bellway’s second application and if we find out that a new inquiry has been ordered we have a sound base of documents.”
Local town and county councillor Andrew Tebbutt said: “The situation as far as I’m concerned hasn’t changed. The inspector made a decision not just on the housing figures, but on a number of issues and particularly the existing settlement boundary was important. I would hope that any new inspector examining the plans would come to the same conclusion.
“The South Morpeth Coalition is totally committed to making sure that development doesn’t take place on that site.”
Bellway declined to comment on the situation.
A spokesman for the Planning Inspectorate said: “The appeal will be re-heard in its entirety, quite likely by a different inspector. A date hasn’t been decided because we haven’t had notice that the court order is in force yet.”