Council priced out of fighting planning decision

PROBLEMS persist at a Morpeth housing development, but councillors will not fight a controversial planning decision.

Fury erupted around The Kylins when Planning Inspector Graham Snowdon overruled a Development Brief for the site to allow developer Charles Church to alter its housing plans.

Residents complained that they had spent years carefully negotiating the brief with the former Castle Morpeth Council and previous developer before the application was granted, but their hard work and compromise seemed to count for nothing when the new proposals were approved.

Members of Morpeth Town Council were also dismayed at the decision and looked into taking the issue to judicial review.

But now they have been forced to back away from the action after learning it could cost up to £70,000, and even double that amount if the council lost the case and had to pay costs. Taking legal advice on the merits of the case alone would cost around £5,000.

Coun David Parker said: “Local people feel betrayed and that having worked hard with the council to arrive at some sort of consensus around the future development of The Kylins site, the inspector has simply used the Development Brief as a guide and interpreted it in a way which, in the view of local people, does not reflect what had been agreed.

“However, to take it to judicial review, two tests had to be applied.

“Is there an issue of principle which could potentially affect any part of Morpeth, not just The Kylins? We are saying yes to that.

“In terms of local people being involved in the planning process then they could find themselves in the same situation as The Kylins people have, going to all that effort and trouble and being prepared to give and take and at the end find that some planning inspector decides that what has been agreed can be amended. Therefore, there is a principle.

“The second test is whether the likely cost to the town council and the council taxpayers of Morpeth would be justifiable or seen to be out of all proportion to the principle.

“It is an important principle, but is not worth £70,000, which represents about 14 or 15 per cent of the town council’s precept in one year. That just seems to be out of all proportion, however regrettable.”

Members heard that Northumberland County Council has also rejected taking the matter to judicial review.

However, the town council will submit a formal complaint about the decision to the planning inspectorate, particularly with regard to the inspector’s use of the Government’s draft planning policy, which has not yet been adopted, and the removal of a condition requiring the developer to make good The Kylins access road when building work is complete.

“We are saying it is unreasonable for the developer not to put the road right because local people contributed most of the money for it in the first place and certainly local taxpayers should not be expected to fund it,” said Coun Parker.

“By the time the developer moves off the site the road is going to be badly damaged and it will cost a considerable sum of money to put right.”

Residents have vowed not to give up the fight and at a meeting of Northumberland County Council yesterday, Maureen Howes asked members what the difference is between a brief and a guideline.

“It is all in the interpretation and in this case I suggest that a guideline holds just as much weight as the planners intended in the original Development Brief and to make major changes as directed by the inspectorate is a serious misjudgement that opens the door to developers to ride roughshod over every future planning decision in the county,” she said.

The approved changes to the scheme include ‘flipping’ houses so that they face onto The Kylins, altering parking provision and changing house types.

Last week, the Herald reported that residents in neighbouring Southfield were fed up with the state of their access road due to the building work.

And now Northumberland County Council is investigating unauthorised signage at the development.

A council spokeswoman said: “We have taken up the matter of the signage with the developer as there are more than the permitted number of signs at the front of the development.

“Persimmon agreed to remove the unauthorised signage and submit an application for consent to retain a single large sign. The application has been received, but the signs/posters on the fence had still not been removed when we last checked.

“We are pursuing this with the developer and will serve appropriate removal notices if necessary.”

Charles Church North East Regional Chairman David Jenkinson said: “We have been in liaison with the council regarding this issue and will continue to do so until this matter is resolved.”