Blow for residents as planners back bid for big development

Members of the Morpeth North Residents Action Group at County Hall.
Members of the Morpeth North Residents Action Group at County Hall.

Controversial development plans on the edge of Morpeth could get the green light next week.

Planners at County Hall are recommending that Mitford Estate’s amended outline bid for a greenfield site to the north and west of Lancaster Park should be approved by councillors.

The number of homes was reduced to 150 and the employment offer – the main feature of which is a 2,100 sq ft ‘innovation centre’ – was increased following Northumberland 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 and parkland.

Although the scheme goes against the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan (MNP), Northumberland County Council’s planning department in its report says this is outweighed by the economic benefits and the applicant has demonstrated some housing is needed as it ‘would not be financially viable to deliver the employment/commercial uses in isolation’.

The Morpeth North Residents Action Group was formed after Mitford Estate unveiled its initial plans two years ago and a spokesman said the claims that about 350 jobs will be created are misleading as enterprise status for the site has yet to be approved.

He added: “We are very disappointed that the county council has plumbed new depths in its headlong rush to destroy Morpeth.

“It now wants to approve the same type of application it refused last time and if the councillors on the planning committee agree, this will allow Mitford Estate to profit hugely by driving coach and horses through the now fully legal MNP.”

The landowner appealed against the refusal of its first application, which included up to 255 homes, last November.

It says that despite reducing the number of homes in its latest bid, the proportion of affordable housing remains at 30 per cent.

More than 130 objections have been lodged for this particular application.

Morpeth North county councillor David Bawn said: “I am very disappointed that this unwanted scheme is now being recommended for approval by officers as nothing material has changed since the last failed application.

“It’s in direct contravention of the MNP and if the county council grants permission in the face of such overwhelming objection and against the democratically and legally approved neighbourhood plan, residents will rightly lose faith in the county’s planning framework process.”

The council’s strategic planning committee will determine the application at a meeting in County Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

The planning department’s report also includes the following: ‘It is considered that the proposal’s economic benefits would far outweigh the development plan policies on which the proposals would be contrary.’