A controversial re-designation of land on the edge of Morpeth as part of major modifications to the Northumberland core strategy has been criticised by councillors and residents.
They believe the move by the county council in the update to the key planning document leaves the door open for Mitford Estate to get approval for part of its bid for a greenfield site to the west of Lancaster Park.
An area of land allocated for employment uses at Fairmoor to the north of the town that was previously included in the strategy is said by the authority to be currently not available for employment development.
An alternative employment site is proposed to the north of Lancaster Park.
Mitford Estate has appealed against the refusal of its application for up to 255 homes, a hotel, roadside services, a pub/restaurant and parkland and it has also submitted a similar bid with fewer homes (195).
Morpeth town councillor Joan Tebbutt, chairman of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan steering group, said: “It is extremely disappointing and worrying that despite the county council having ‘made’ the neighbourhood plan as recently as May 10, decisions have been made behind closed doors over weeks, if not months, by developers, landowners and the authority that contradict the neighbourhood plan.
“After everyone’s hard work and a massive turnout in favour of the plan at referendum on February 25, this is morally unjustifiable.
“The clear, democratically expressed wishes of residents have been unceremoniously disregarded.”
Coun David Bawn, county councillor for Morpeth North, said he has been told that the change was made because council officers felt the original employment land was not available due to legal agreements held by Barratt Homes.
He added: “The change in the designation of the land between the A1 and Lancaster Park is infuriating to local residents and myself who have campaigned against its use.
“Lancaster Park had the highest turnout of any polling station in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan referendum and now they are being betrayed.
“I have a series of questions which I will be putting to officers regarding the proposals. I in no way support this designation and will be exploring every opportunity to make sure that the plans are reconsidered.”
The Morpeth North Residents Action Group was formed in response to the first bid.
A spokesman for the group said: “With the neighbourhood plan just having been made, we were shocked by this; trust in the county council is almost zero in Morpeth.
“It is clear that support for Mitford Estate’s commercial development has been in the background for a significant amount of time.”
If agreed by the county council’s cabinet on at a meeting on Tuesday, people will be able to comment on the soundness of the core strategy’s ‘major modifications’ during a six-week consultation that will run from June 15 to July 27.
Geoff Paul, director of housing and economy at the authority, said: “We are very supportive of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan and the core strategy continues to back its proposals.
“The land at Fairmoor has been earmarked for employment use for a significant period and it is only relatively recently that the council has become aware of a contractual option, which will effectively frustrate any ambitions to use it for employment purposes within the period of the strategy.
“The council cannot go into an examination with such a significant policy with a high risk of not being able to be delivered.
“We are confident that the proposed employment land modification is capable of being delivered.”
He added: “The proposal within the modifications is to safeguard the original Fairmoor site for employment purposes post-2031.”