Town council decides against proceeding with judicial review

Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.
Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

A local authority has announced that it will not be pursuing a court process that would have resulted in a fresh vote on the controversial Mitford Estate development scheme if successful.

The privately-owned family business’ amended outline bid for a greenfield site to the north and west of Lancaster Park in Morpeth, which includes a mix of housing and units for employment, was approved by Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee in September.

Responding to public concern, Morpeth Town Council has received legal advice to the effect that there is insufficient evidence to support a judicial review of this decision.

It followed the advice of planning officers that the economic benefits claimed by the applicant were sufficient to outweigh the fact that developing the site runs contrary to the policies of the recently made Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan (MNP).

The town council – the responsible body for the preparation of the MNP – chose to pursue all possible avenues to challenge the decision.

It previously stated that given the key document containing planning policies and community actions for Morpeth over the next 15 years was approved in February 2016 with a 93 per cent majority, it felt that it was clearly in the public interest to challenge the planning committee’s decision.

Members spoke of their disappointment in November when they were informed that their request to the National Planning Casework Unit for a ministerial ‘call-in’ of the decision, which would have provided an opportunity to review the application of the planning policy, was declined.

The final avenue open to the local authority was a judicial review of the decision.

Morpeth Town Council clerk Tracey Bell said: “The town council sought legal advice as to whether a judicial review would be likely to succeed.

“The advice received was that on the evidence available, the county council had followed correct procedure.”

A judicial review examines the legal process behind a decision, although if it is successful, the actual decision is referred back to the original decision-making body with a steer to ensure that legal procedure is followed.

Chairman of the town council’s planning and transport committee, Coun Joan Tebbutt, said: “To my mind, the crux of the advice is that there is no evidence to support a judicial review.

“The county council neither records its planning committee meetings, nor take contemporaneous notes, and so – although town councillors and many members of the public were very dissatisfied with the way the meeting was conducted – there is no evidence that would carry sufficient legal weight to justify a judicial review.

“This is very disappointing, but I hope that the people of Morpeth will recognise that we have followed every possible avenue to challenge this damaging decision.”

Mitford Estate changed its proposal to bring down the number of homes to 150 and the employment offer, the main feature of which is a 2,100 sq ft ‘innovation centre’, was increased following the county council’s decision to allocate the site as designated employment land in its major modifications to the core strategy.

Also included in the plans are a 60-bed hotel, roadside services, a pub/restaurant, additional landscaping and parkland.