Angry residents have spoken out on Stobhill housing plans.
Planning Inspector Pete Drew held a public meeting on Tuesday evening as part of the inquiry into plans by Barratt David Wilson Homes and Tees Valley Housing to build 396 houses on land between the A196 and A192.
Dozens of people turned out for the sessions and many took the opportunity to have their say.
Resident Vivien Rochester said: “The applicants seem to be under the impression that the people of Morpeth are backward looking and have an attitude of ‘not in my back yard’. Actually, most of the people in Morpeth care very much about Morpeth. It is not a case of we don’t want any house building, we have had quite a bit. People are saying they don’t want this development because they don’t think it is right for our town.
“Once this housing estate is built, we can’t take it out. Any problems that would appear would not be sorted out by the builders, it would be the county council, the local councillors and the people of Morpeth putting up with them.”
Stobhill resident and a former Chairman of Morpeth Town Council Derek Thompson raised concerns about the loss of agricultural land, the lack of school places and medical facilities, and traffic congestion.
He added: “The A196 has been the natural border between south east Morpeth and Hepscott for many years. It defines this town and it should not be crossed in a reckless way for the sake of some housing development.
“There are a huge number of applications for development in the town at the moment and many of them are not appropriate, and this one certainly is not.
“The developers love to build houses in Morpeth because they get twice the price for those houses.”
Michael Lamb, of Morpeth, said: “When the traffic lights went in at Telford Bridge the Morpeth residents knew in their hearts that it was wrong, that it didn’t work and that it was not to the good of Morpeth. We all stood up and said no to everybody – the councillors and experts who told us we were wrong – and we got the lights removed. When we get 1,500 houses built and the find they are wrong in their models, we can’t just pull them down.
“There will be 3,000 people to go on doctors’ lists. I sometimes wait a fortnight now to see a doctor. What about the dentists?
“There are so many affordable houses going to be built. To me, that means there is going to be quite a few unaffordable houses going to be built. I have never quite understood what affordable housing is. Surely that depends on how much money you have. I’m sure an oligarch could afford affordable housing in Morpeth.”
Morpeth resident Chris Tuersley told the developer’s representative: “What I do care about is the environment, what I do care about is the Greenbelt, I don’t care two hoots about your vested interest.”
Modelling agreed by the developer and Northumberland County Council suggests that the journey from the Stobhill roundabout to Bridge Street will take just 221 seconds in rush hour. However, residents have rubbished the claims.
Paul Kidd, of Hepscott, said: “That is three minutes 41 seconds. I say as a retired magistrate that you would be breaking the law. There are three roundabouts between Stobhill and Bridge Street and four pedestrian crossings, all of which are busy at 8.30 and nine o’clock in the morning.
“I am sceptical of information based on computer modelling. I think that model was designed by the same people who installed lights on the north side of Telford Bridge. We all know what we think of them.” Hepscott resident Jean Douglas, who goes on the school and nursery run three times a day, said: “I was very interested to learn how quickly I could travel into Morpeth from Hepscott. In summer you can sail through, but most times you get just past Sainsbury’s when you stop. We race the children walking into school, they frequently beat us.
“I often have to say they are too far in front, choose another child to race.
“I always have the car ready to go at 8.15am, I have been late for school at 8.45am.
“There are not only people coming from Hepscott, there are a lot of people from Ashington using the A196 and you can have total gridlock.”
Sandra Kennedy, of Stobhill Manor, said: “The traffic is horrendous. It takes 25 to 30 minutes to reach the town centre in rush hour from the Stobhill roundabout. From the roundabout you are in first gear until you get to Morpeth. There are not only traffic lights, there are three very busy junctions. The only way that people can get out of these junctions is if somebody kind-heartedly lets them out, which makes the traffic behind wait longer.”
David Armstrong, of Barmoor Bank, said: “The model is totally wrong. Several times a year the queues are back from the Stobhill roundabout, past Barmoor Bank and sometimes are almost to the turn-off to Hepscott because of snow, ice, fog, accidents on the junctions or problems at the four roundabouts. There is no way you can do that journey in that time. The congestion on the roads can be horrendous on some mornings.”
Tom Smith, of the Morpeth Flood Action Group, said the plans fail to provide adequate measures to address flood risk as there is a lack of understanding of the effect soil type has on drainage.
He said that if the plans are approved, surface water storage facilities must drain the site by gravity and drain by gravity, their capacity must be 26,000 cubic metres and the maximum run-off rate must be limited to 16 litres per second. He added that the sewer system should connect directly to the treatment works.
And he pointed out that if details of drainage and sewerage are to be agreed as conditions, it denies local residents the chance to scrutinise them.
He added: “Flooding of people’s homes is a life-changing experience. In the case of home owners with a life-long investment in their home, it is lost at a stroke. Home values fall dramatically once they are flooded so people are unable to sell and home insurance becomes unavailable because it is no longer affordable.”
Town councillor Bob Robertson, speaking as a Morpeth resident, said: “The evidence from the flood action group is really very important. The sewerage system for the whole of Morpeth is under threat of massive overload and there is no indication that the existing system can possibly cope with even a small percentage of what is there. If you are going to build a development in that part of the town there should be a separate system provided to bypass the existing one.
“We heard at an earlier meeting that the planning application could go through before the part on the drainage system is ratified. That is quite serious. I would seriously consider that a bad idea as we could get something that is inappropriate.”
Retired GP Anne Colver, of Hepscott, told the inspector: “Flooding is terrible for home owners. They have to evacuate their property for six months and then comes the relief when the refurbished property is ready to move back in, but this is only the start of the anxiety. Every time it rains they wonder will it happen again? Every time they go on holiday they wonder whether they will come back to a flood.
“Insurance prices go up, but so do the excesses. One lady in her 70s has to pay £40,000 excess every time she claims. All the hard-earned earnings of a lifetime are reduced to little.
“Please take expert advice on the flooding assessment before you make your recommendation.”
Planning Consultant for the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group Ian Campbell said that recent decisions on housing applications are undermining the opportunity for local people to shape the town’s development.
He said that much has been made of the need to boost housing supply, supported by the National Planning Policy Framework, but he pointed out that it is just one of 12 points in the policy on sustainable development.
He added that all previous and emerging planning strategies for the area envisage development in the north of Morpeth, around St George’s Hospital, rather than the south.
He said: “The readers of last week’s Morpeth Herald, with its reports on a development deluge, would be both bewildered and confused that the people of Morpeth have been let down by the planning system.
“Morpeth Town Council and the adjoining parishes of Pegswood, Hepscott, Mitford and Hebron have teamed up to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan to manage future development and to manage future growth.
“In recent weeks and over the last couple of years, both the local planning authority and the Planning Inspectorate have taken a series of decisions on individual applications that undermines our efforts to realise planned growth for the town and surrounding villages.
“The application that is the subject of this inquiry similarly seeks to promote further large-scale residential development in advance of the completion of the Neighbourhood Plan and will be potentially frustrating the development strategy that might be brought forward through that process.”
l See next week’s Herald for councillor reaction and the evidence put forward on key issues by the applicants, council and Hepscott and Morpeth Together.