Crisis fears over town’s planning controls

Planning control is in chaos, leaving Morpeth at risk of becoming a commuter town, councillors have warned.

Concerned members of Morpeth Town Council have sounded the alarm over the lack of a co-ordinated development strategy, which could see the area swamped with inappropriate housing.

They said the planning vacuum left by having no Core Strategy in place is undermining community efforts to draft a Neighbourhood Plan, setting out where development should and should not take place. And they have accused Northumberland County Council’s development control department of being in chaos.

Coun Nic Best, who is Vice-Chairman of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, said: “The county council has allowed the development of housing on a site at Northgate that was earmarked for economic development in its own Core Strategy.

“The development control side of the county council is riding roughshod over the Neighbourhood Plan process and the Core Strategy process. The same department of the council is making conflicting policy decisions. It is in total chaos.”

Coun David Parker said: “The Core Strategy is being torpedoed by the local authority itself. At this late stage it is drawing back and going off on a tangent. There is no sense of any coherent strategy.”

The comments, made at a meeting of the town’s Planning and Transport Committee, echo concerns in last week’s Herald about a development deluge in the town, with plans for around 1,500 new homes either approved or in the pipeline.

The latest applications to secure consent will see up to 200 homes built at Loansdean and 255 at Fairmoor.

The Core Strategy and Neighbourhood Plan will establish where development is appropriate, but while work on the latter is progressing well, it cannot be adopted until the former is in place.

And there are fears that with the absence of such policies, developers could secure consent for housing on sites that the community has in mind for other uses.

Coun Bob Robertson said: “Someone made the point that Morpeth is like a computer without a firewall. It is annoying and frustrating.”

There is also concern it could become a commuter town.

Coun Best said: “Morpeth has been identified as a location for potential growth, but that growth doesn’t just mean more houses. It means employment for people in those houses, otherwise it just becomes a commuter town for Tyneside and does nothing for the economy and vitality of Morpeth. It doesn’t provide schools and shops and facilities.”

Coun Parker added: “I feel that the planning authority is losing control strategically of planning. It is being led by developers in a way which is quite inappropriate and nobody is taking a strategic view.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “The decision to grant planning permission for the South Loansdean development was granted by an independent planning inspector on appeal, not by the county council.

“Both the South Loansdean and Fairmoor decisions are in line with draft policies in the emerging Core Strategy.

“The emerging strategy for Morpeth is to direct the majority of new housing development during the plan period towards the north of Morpeth along the route of the proposed Northern Bypass for the town. This accords with the strategy of the former Castle Morpeth Borough Council Local Plan.

“The emerging Core Strategy also currently identifies the South Loansdean site as land which could come forward for housing development within the Plan period.”