Controversial bid amended again

All Saints First School's hall was packed for a recent meeting of the Morpeth North Residents Action Group.
All Saints First School's hall was packed for a recent meeting of the Morpeth North Residents Action Group.

Further changes have been made to controversial plans for a large development on the edge of Morpeth.

The amendments to the Mitford Estate bid for a greenfield site to the north and west of Lancaster Park include a significant increase in the employment offer and a reduction in the number of homes.

Members of the Morpeth North Residents Action Group (MNRAG) will now examine them. The group recently held a meeting at All Saints First School to discuss Northumberland County Council’s decision to allocate the site as employment land in its major modifications to the core strategy.

A number of angry comments were made given that such a designation is not in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, which was officially ‘made’ by the authority just a couple of weeks earlier.

Mitford Estate appealed against the refusal of its application for up to 255 homes, a hotel, roadside services, a pub/restaurant and parkland last November.

Earlier this year, it submitted a similar bid with fewer homes (195) and more grazing land.

The additional changes made recently bring this number down to 150, with affordable housing still at 30 per cent.

A 2,100 sq ft innovation centre is also being proposed, which the landowner says will offer the opportunity for a wide range of businesses to utilise the workspace.

A Mitford Estate spokesman added: “The successful delivery of this detailed scheme offers the opportunity to create more than 350 jobs and produce a £22million economic boost for the area, with an investment cost of £80million.

“The current major modification consultation to the Northumberland Core Strategy identifies the opportunity for this site to deliver meaningful employment that meets the county’s strategic needs.

“The benefits of the scheme also include that the housing will meet local affordable housing needs.”

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.

In the major modifications information, it has proposed part of the Mitford Estate planning application area as an alternative employment site.

More than 100 residents attended the MNRAG meeting to find out more about the situation.

A spokesman for the group said: “Residents want to know why this land designated as safeguarded in the neighbourhood plan has mysteriously become available for employment use in the amended core strategy.

“There is a belief that the county council has given support to Mitford Estate for development of this land for employment purposes and this support started when the Morpeth Northern Bypass was first proposed.

“Why should the council and Mitford Estate undermine the clear, democratically-expressed wishes of Morpeth residents? The anger expressed at the meeting was understandable.”

Geoff Paul, director of housing and economy at the county council, said: “We are very supportive of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan and the core strategy continues to back its proposals.

“It was only relatively recently that the council became aware of a contractual option which will effectively frustrate any ambitions to use it (the land at Fairmoor) for employment purposes within the strategy period. The council cannot go into an examination with such a significant policy with a high risk of it not being able to be delivered.

“The proposed modification is to allocate an alternative site west of Lancaster Park as employment land, and we are confident that this is capable of being delivered.”