The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan (MNP) has come under attack from a developer.
The war of words over Mitford Estate’s application for hundreds of homes, a hotel, roadside services and parkland on a greenfield site to the west of Lancaster Park has intensified as the document to help shape the town’s future has reached an important stage.
In response to the criticism from the estate’s representative, a residents’ group has accused it of using ‘bullying tactics’ to try to delay the plan.
Councillors and volunteers from across Morpeth, as well as Hebron, Hepscott, Mitford and Pegswood, produced a set of policies and actions through to 2031 after discussions in topic groups and two public consultation periods.
Initially, it was thought that they could not be adopted until the county council’s Core Strategy was approved, but a High Court ruling earlier this year established that neighbourhood plans can be prepared ahead of the document for a county.
However, Mitford Estate believes it has a number of solid reasons to object to the current MNP proposals and it ‘reserves its position as to whether it pursues these matters elsewhere’.
A letter was submitted to the county council on behalf of the estate by Sandra Manson, director of Signet Planning.
It includes the following: ‘The MNP is predicated on a protectionist approach, which does not reflect the strategic role the town has in Northumberland and that is specifically referred to in the emerging Core Strategy.
‘The deflated housing figure of at least 1,700 is contrary to the objectively assessed need based Core Strategy requirement of at least 2,100.
‘Due to the MNP coming forward in advance of the Core Strategy, it cannot possibly align with the strategic employment policies of the emerging Core Strategy as they are not written and does not have an up-to-date evidence base to inform it’.
The plan will be assessed by an independent examiner and the final stage is a public referendum. If it is approved, it will be taken into account when planning applications are considered.
In response to comments from statutory consultees and others, Mitford Estate has made some alterations to its plans, such as reducing the number of homes from 280 to 255, amended parking arrangements and additional landscaping.
However, the Morpeth North Residents Action Group is still vehemently opposed to the application, citing noise problems, light pollution, the creation of urban sprawl on the green approaches to the town and the reduction of the separation distance between Mitford and Morpeth among other issues.
A spokesman for the group said: “This is a naked attempt to bully the town and county councils into significant delays with the neighbourhood plan process and a flagrant attempt to overturn the democratic process by which the people of Morpeth outlined how they would like to see their much-loved town develop.
“In addition, it cannot be what the Government wished to see when it devolved power over the planning process.
“The swarm of developers currently circling Morpeth are watching all this very carefully, since one false move will open the floodgates to development on a scale that will destroy the town as we know it”.