Retail plans at key town site are also off the table

County Hall in Morpeth, with what is left of some of the trees cut down in an area of land that would have been part of the relocated first school site in the foreground.
County Hall in Morpeth, with what is left of some of the trees cut down in an area of land that would have been part of the relocated first school site in the foreground.

A group of residents and traders have spoken of their delight following official confirmation that controversial plans on and next to the County Hall site in Morpeth have been withdrawn.

Following a process where Northumberland County Council’s previous administration – led by the Labour group – invited bids, a proposal was put forward by Home Group to build up to 200 new homes at the local authority’s current headquarters site in Loansdean.

Plans were also lodged by Maple Grove Developments for a new supermarket, retail units, drive-thru restaurant and a pub on the former fire station and Merley Croft sites and by the council to relocate Morpeth First School to the front of County Hall.

They were due to be determined at a public inquiry, but Home Group pulled out of the process last month and after the Conservative group became the largest party on the county council following the election earlier this month, group leader Peter Jackson told the Herald: “I can confidently tell you that the move of County Hall is stopped.”

In a statement released yesterday, a Maple Grove Developments spokesman said: “Successful developments require the local authority and developer to work together in partnership and after the local election, it has been made clear to us that the county council does not now support the development proposal.

“As a result, we’ve taken the decision to withdraw our application. We will, however, be engaging with the council about a way forward for the site.”

A county council spokesman said: “Formal notification has been issued to the Planning Inspectorate that all three planning applications for the County Hall site have been withdrawn.”

Reacting to the news, David Holden of the South Morpeth Coalition residents’ group said, “This is a victory for the will and determination of Morpeth residents.

“The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan is clear that retail and housing are not appropriate uses for the sites, but the former council administration tried to ignore it.

“The suggested location of the school directly opposite a fast food drive-thru was appalling and contrary to the advice we submitted from public health experts at Cambridge and Liverpool Universities.

“The new council administration should undertake a master planning exercise for the whole town ahead of new proposals being brought forward.

“These proposals should include options to replace Morpeth First School in Goosehill, which is much needed but there are better sites available to what was proposed.”

George Williams, who has recently taken over as chairman of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, said: “The retail park would have done irreversible damage to existing businesses in the town centre and would have also ruined the character of Morpeth as a market town.

“The chamber has always held the view that new retail is welcome, but that it should be in the town centre. The previous Labour administration refused to listen to us or the 1,000 people that took part in the protest march in February.

“I am delighted that common sense has eventually prevailed and look forward to having a constructive dialogue with the new administration as to how Morpeth’s excellent retail offer can be complemented.”