Approval for home in green belt hinges upon definition of village

A new home has been approved in the green belt in a settlement to the south of Morpeth, despite planners saying it should be turned down.

Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 2:58 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th March 2019, 3:03 pm
The site at Hepscott Park where a new home has been approved against the advice of planning officers.

Northumberland County Council planning officers had recommended refusal for an outline bid for a one-and-a-half-storey house in garden land to the north of 16 Park Drive in Hepscott Park.

But at Monday’s (March 11) meeting of the Castle Morpeth Local Area Council, a majority of members opted to side with 24 neighbours, Stannington Parish Council and the ward councillor Eileen Armstrong, who all supported it, to give the scheme the go-ahead.

The site is in the green belt, so the application hinged upon whether it met one of the exceptions in green-belt policy by being ‘limited infill in a village’.

This was further complicated by the fact that neither infill nor village are defined in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) or other planning law, meaning that it is a matter of judgement.

In this case, the planners feel that Hepscott Park is not a village as ‘there are no characteristics such as a central village core or any focal points or features’, and even if it were, this proposal would not represent infilling ‘as there is no filling of an obvious gap between buildings’.

Planning manager Liz Sinnamon told the meeting: “Hepscott is more the village in the locality. We feel that Hepscott Park is a housing development that’s found itself in the open countryside.”

But a number of councillors disagreed, not least because Bellway was recently given permission to build 89 homes there, massively increasing the size of the settlement – the difference being that this application was on previously-developed land that housed buildings used by the county council.

Coun Richard Wearmouth, who moved approval, said: “There isn’t a sense of openness there and it’s not being destroyed.”

Coun Glen Sanderson added: “I fully acknowledge the integrity of the planning officers in bringing it forward, however, they admit it’s touch and go so I don’t think it’s too serious to go against the officers.”

However, Coun John Beynon said: “If we call this a village, do we call St George’s (in Morpeth) a village, because that, like this, was a row of houses by a hospital?”

Coun David Bawn felt it was a village, saying: “It was probably a hamlet before, but it has significantly changed. It is infill, it’s a clearly defined site, you can’t build behind it and you can’t build next to it.”

Coun David Towns agreed, adding: “What harm is done to the open countryside by what looks to be a pretty small property? It’s a hard call, but I’m wondering, what harm does it cause to the green belt?”

Members voted by six votes to one, with three abstentions, to approve the application, although it will be returned to next month’s meeting for planning conditions to be agreed.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service