Like many other concerned residents, I attended the Strategic Planning Committee on March 7, where county councillors considered the three planning applications for the County Hall site — a first school, 200 houses and a retail park, including drive-thru fast food outlet.
I was appalled to note that most of the Labour councillors on the committee did not ask a single question or make any comments during the debate to justify their vote. This rightly received a furious response from many residents who attended.
Morpeth Town Council, led by the Liberal Democrats for the last ten years, was the qualifying body for the Neighbourhood Plan, which involved community volunteers and consulted with residents throughout the process.
Morpeth’s Plan passed a referendum in February 2016 and came into full legal force on May 2016.
It is a legal requirement that decision-makers abide by the policies in Neighbourhood Plans, unless there are very good reasons why not.
I do not believe that there were any good reasons to disregard the Plan policies.
The Plan allocates the County Hall site for employment usage to prevent Morpeth becoming even more of a dormitory town, not a retail park, which will damage our town centre, or 200 more houses, which are not needed.
Unfortunately, Northumberland County Council seems keen to find any way to get around the policies in the plan and the Labour-dominated Strategic Planning Committee has supported this approach.
Furthermore, a move in Parliament to give Neighbourhood Plan qualifying bodies the right of appeal against planning decisions was defeated by the Tory government.
So Labour and the Tories between them have managed to reduce the impact of the Plan to virtually nil.
What happens now?
Morpeth Lib Dems and others, including the South Morpeth Coalition, Dransfield Properties, who own Sanderson Arcade, and the Chamber of Trade have requested that the Secretary of State ‘call in’ the applications so they can be decided by objective experts, and Morpeth representatives can have a chance to state their case.
Morpeth Town Council also successfully requested that the Secretary of State issue a ‘Holding Direction’ to prevent the county council determining the applications.
Apparently, these directions are not usually sent out, except in complex cases.
We hope this shows a level of concern that will lead to a ‘call in’, though there may be no decision until after the local elections on May 4.
If the Secretary of State decides not to call in the three planning applications, they will be approved and the only option would be to apply for judicial review, at huge expense.
If he does decide to call them in, there will be a public inquiry, as happened with the Bellway and Barratt developments.
I can assure readers that Morpeth Lib Dems will continue to fight for Morpeth as we did in these earlier inquiries.
Morpeth Liberal Democrats