A CRUCIAL stage has been reached in the bid to allow the community to shape future development.
The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan will enable local people to manage development in the area, setting policies that would have to be considered alongside national, regional and county plans when determining applications.
It not only covers Morpeth, but also the neighbouring parishes of Pegswood, Hebron, Hepscott and Mitford.
Volunteers have spent the last 12 months examining the key issues facing the area in four topic groups – environment, heritage, housing and the local economy, as well as looking at the cross-cutting themes of education, transport, infrastructure and sport, arts and leisure.
Now the Plan’s steering group is carrying out six weeks of consultation on the Issues and Options to seek feedback from the wider communities about the suggestions put forward so far.
Leaflets will be sent to every household in the Plan area, urging residents to fill in either a short questionnaire or give a more detailed response. All responses will be analysed to form the basis of a draft Plan, which should be published in the spring.
The final version will be put to a referendum for approval.
Morpeth Mayor Joan Tebbutt, who launched the consultation at the Town Hall last week, said: “This is a new concept as part of the Government’s Localism agenda and it enables us to prepare a community-led Neighbourhood Plan. Once adopted, that Plan will become an integral part of the legal development plan and will be taken into account by planning committees and planning inspectors when making decisions about development applications in our area.
“It will therefore be of huge significance in ensuring that the inevitable future growth is controlled by our Plan, rather than by the piecemeal wishes of developers.
“The final document, the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, will shape the future pattern of growth and development in Morpeth and the neighbouring parishes for the next 20 years.
“Change is coming, growth is coming, whether we want it or not. However, with a Neighbourhood Plan in place we will be better able to manage the change in a way that reflects the community’s priorities.”
Coun Tebbutt urged people to give their views and she thanked those who have worked on the Plan so far.
“A lot of work has gone into this and it has been wonderful to witness the commitment and knowledge so many people have put into the process,” she said.
“I thank everyone who has been involved in this and hope that the community embraces the opportunity this consultation represents.”
Morpeth Town Council set up the Plan steering group last October when 200 people registered an interest in being involved. About 15 to 20 members of the public have served on each topic group, gathering evidence and using their own expertise to bring forward suggestions. Eight technical reports were produced to feed into the Issues and Options document.
A general ‘vision’ proposed for Morpeth is to maintain its strong sense of place, identity and character, strengthen its role as a rural service centre with a strong retail sector and mix of visitor attractions, and protect its rural setting and green approaches.
Pegswood would be developed as a more sustainable settlement, with more housing, services, facilities and employment, while Hebron, Hepscott and Mitford would have little development, with tight settlement boundaries to protect their character and identities.
Change would only be acceptable in the area if it would not compromise the environment, heritage and setting, and developers would have to ensure infrastructure was in place to support any scheme.
Specific sites and land uses will be identified as the Plan progresses.
Steering group Chairman Ken Brown said: “Everyone will be getting a copy of the short questionnaire through their door this week. I would urge people first of all to complete that form, either online or on paper and return it to the town council.
“What that will do is give us some hard evidence that the community is engaging with the Plan, which adds to its strength.
“Further than that, there is also a longer questionnaire, which I would urge residents to read and answer.
“There are more specific questions there, such as where people think development should take place, and that will obviously give us some stronger clues as to the direction that the Plan needs to take.”
Further information and the questionnaires can be found online at www.themor pethneighbourhoodplan.org.uk Documents are also available on request from Morpeth Town Hall, and a display can be found in Morpeth Library. Consultation on the Issues and Options runs until Wednesday, October 30.
l For more on the Plan, see Pages 26-7 and next week’s Herald.