Jobs loss fear sways decision

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FEARS over the potential loss of jobs helped plans for a 250-home estate, as part of the re-development of a hospital north of Morpeth, get the go-ahead.

At last Thursday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s North Area Planning Committee, members granted outline planning permission to the scheme for new homes on surplus land at Northgate Hospital in Fairmoor.

This was alongside full planning permission for the replacement of the low-security male forensic unit, Villa 19, and outline permission for the replacement of the Severe Autism Unit, with the funding for these necessary improvements hinging on the residential development.

Although the applicant, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, is only offering 20 per cent of the proposed homes for affordable housing, rather than the usually required 35 per cent, and despite concerns raised by West View residents, Hebron Parish Council and Morpeth Town Council, it was considered that the ‘overall benefits outweighed the harm’.

A report from planning officer Vivienne Robinson said: “The health sector accounts for 15.2 per cent of employment in Northumberland and is the second largest contributor to the employment within the former Castle Morpeth district. The number of staff based at Northgate Hospital is approximately 800 people.”

An agent for the Foundation Trust said that the housing development was the ‘only realistic solution’ and the only way of raising the capital to refurbish the hospital units.

Coun Robert Arckless said: “I think with this scale and the housing portion of it particularly, there are some problems and we would need to look at it carefully if it gets to the next stage.

“What we need to decide is if there’s an overriding public benefit, which is what the officers are advising us.

“It’s about the service which is being delivered, which is a very important service. With the number of jobs that are dependent on this scheme going forward, we cannot afford to endanger that. It’s right to say there are concerns which we will look at in great detail.”

Coun Dougie Watkin supported the plans but was concerned about the level of affordable housing offered as part of the Section 106 agreement.

“The developers want to look at the market. There’s 13,000 people in this county on the list for housing,” he said. “I’m perfectly happy to move acceptance of this but I hope the negotiations can move towards affordable housing more in relation with the framework.”

Earlier in the meeting, Coun David Woodard had proposed that the committee go on a site visit, however members voted against this as they had already been to the site once before.

“It’s a major application and there have been significant objections from Hebron Parish Council and Morpeth Town Council,” he said.

“I really do think the committee needs to see more details on the site before making a decision.”

Members also heard that, since the planning officer’s report was compiled, Sport England had objected to the proposals due to the loss of playing fields. A statutory declaration from an employee of Northgate Hospital also said that no groups had been given permission to use the the area in the last seven years.

A detailed application will need to be made and agreed by the committee before building work can start on the homes.