Planning vacuum begins to be filled at last

A community plan to protect Morpeth from unwanted development has finally been submitted after three years in the making.

The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan aims to fill a policy void that has led to a deluge of development applications in recent years and seen permission granted for major housing schemes on greenfield sites on the edge of the town.

People don’t necessarily have to agree with everything, but they do have to recognise that without a Plan we have nothing to protect the area at all.

Joan Tebbutt, Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group Chairman

It defines settlement boundaries and includes policies on sustainable development, design, green spaces, heritage, Morpeth town centre, employment land and housing, with sites allocated to provide at least 1,700 homes.

The Plan, which also covers the neighbouring parishes of Pegswood, Hepscott, Mitford and Hebron, has now been submitted to Northumberland County Council and is due to be passed to an examiner in the next two weeks when it will have to be considered as part of any planning decisions.

A hearing could then be held in September, with a public referendum in October or November to seek residents’ approval. If there is a positive vote, the Plan would go back to the county council to be rubber-stamped and could be in place by the end of the year.

Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group Chairman Joan Tebbutt said: “The Plan will not yet be fully in place, it has to be ‘made’ at the end of quite a long process, but as it goes through the process it gains more weight at each stage.

“As soon as the county council sends it to an examiner it starts to take on much more weight and has to be taken into account when it is making planning decisions.”

About 600 people responded to consultation on the draft Plan, with the feedback helping to form the final version.

Coun Tebbutt said: “The referendum is absolutely crucial. If it fails there we will not have a Plan and Morpeth will once again be totally open to developers’ whims.

“People don’t necessarily have to agree with everything, but they do have to recognise that without a Plan we have nothing to protect the area at all. Many people think the amount of housing we are going to have is far too much, but we have to be in line with the emerging Core Strategy.

“We are hoping that the examiner will say we have allowed for growth and therefore approves the Plan.”

Hundreds of residents have contributed to the Plan’s development in meetings, topic groups and reports, and Coun Tebbutt paid tribute to their work.

“The Plan Preparation Group has individuals from the community involved and they have worked like Trojans. It has been frenetic,” she said.

“They are a Godsend to this town and they have done a huge amount of work.”