Major scheme for edge of Morpeth thrown out by councillors

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A major scheme for homes, a hotel and a roadside services on the outskirts of Morpeth was rejected by councillors earlier this week.

As reported by the Herald last week, planning officers from Northumberland County Council had recommended that Mitford Estate’s bid for up to 255 homes, a hotel, roadside services, a pub/restaurant and a country park on a greenfield site to the west of Lancaster Park should not receive planning permission.

It was duly thrown out by members of the strategic planning committee on Tuesday afternoon, in front of a packed council chamber at County Hall.

Under the pre-submission draft of the Core Strategy and the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan (MNP), both of which can now be given considerable weight in the planning process, the site is safeguarded land, which means it may be needed for housing in the long-term future, but not under current plans up to 2031.

Peter Birchall spoke against the plans on behalf of residents, saying that while they agreed with the officer’s report on the housing element, they were concerned that her opinion was that the Trunk Road Service Area (TRSA) and hotel could potentially be supported.

Coun Nic Best, from Morpeth Town Council, added that the proposals were ‘against the spirit and letter of the Neighbourhood Plan’.

As well as the agent for the plans, who highlighted the benefits of the scheme, such as the creation of 185 jobs, 30 per cent affordable housing and the countryside park, Mitford Parish Council also backed the bid.

Coun Mike Sharp explained the council’s support was based on jobs and affordable homes.

“We need more jobs and Morpeth needs more jobs,” he said. “We are not creating them, we are losing them, particularly if County Hall moves to Ashington.”

Coun Andrew Tebbutt, who is also a town and county councillor in Morpeth, said: “I don’t understand – if we go against officer recommendation – why we have spent a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of hot air on the Core Strategy, which is what we want for the county’s future.”

He went on to say that the land allocated to housing in Morpeth and the surrounding villages can actually deliver 2,800 homes, 700 more than the 2,100 required in the Core Strategy up to 2031.

Reflecting on the TRSA and hotel proposals, he pointed out that there had been issues with other service areas on the A1 and that there was a scheme for a hotel at Clifton, but it never materialised.

Coun Richard Dodd added: “If we pass this, it really does drive a coach and horses through six or seven years of work (on the Core Strategy).”

Coun Dougie Watkin said he agreed with his colleagues, but had sympathy with the Mitford authority if the parish was to miss out on affordable homes due to an adequate supply in Morpeth itself.

Coun Bernard Pidcock was the only councillor to vote for the scheme – although there was one abstention – highlighting that the planning officer’s report referred twice to ‘tipping the balance’.

He believed that the benefits of the economic opportunities tipped the balance in favour of the development, but chairman Coun Paul Kelly pointed out that every planning application is about tipping the balance and that the officer’s opinion was clear.

Coun Kelly added to his colleague’s views on the Core Strategy, saying: “There’s a question of credibility here.”

After the meeting, Joan Tebbutt, town councillor and chair of the MNP steering group, said: “We’re delighted that the committee agreed with the officer recommendation to refuse the application.

“I have no doubt that Mitford Estate will appeal and the community will have to fight it, but we are in a stronger position now thanks to the progress of the neighbourhood plan and the fact that a five-year housing land supply for the central area, which includes Morpeth, has been provided by the county council in its latest core strategy documents.”

Morpeth North county councillor David Bawn said: “I am delighted that the county council’s strategic planning committee has rejected this ill-thought out proposal.

“The land in question is clearly designated as ‘safeguarded land’ in both the emerging MNP and County Core Strategy and I am reassured that councillors have affirmed this in their decision.

“The aggressive tactics of the applicant, including a cynical attempt to undermine the basis of the neighbourhood plan, have rightly failed.

“Let us hope that Mitford Estate accepts the decision of the council and the overwhelming views of local residents and scraps the entire scheme.”