Fiercely opposed plans to build almost 400 homes on the edge of Morpeth have been granted by the Secretary of State.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has ruled in favour of a bid by Barratt David Wilson Homes and Tees Valley Housing to build 396 properties on agricultural land between Stobhill and Hepscott.
The news comes as a bitter disappointment to hundreds of residents who opposed the scheme, as well as to Morpeth Hepscott, Stannington and Northumberland town, parish and county councils, which also argued against it.
Morpeth member Joan Tebbutt, who helped to lead the Hepscott and Morpeth Together (HMT) opposition group, said: “This is devastating for Morpeth.
“In a way it was inevitable because the county council hasn’t got a Core Strategy or Local Plan in place. I fear for Morpeth until we have those. It could be that this decision gives hope to other developers who are waiting in the wings to put applications in. It is very worrying.
“Somebody at some point has got to start doing a Master Plan for Morpeth and seeing that there is a maximum that this town can take because of the size of its town centre, its schools and its road system.
“We are coming to the point where we need a second river crossing and a Loansdean to Stobhill link road to make this town viable if it continues to grow at this alarming rate.”
Mr Pickles backed a recommendation by Planning Inspector Pete Drew to grant planning consent for the scheme, saying that emerging plans supporting development in the north of Morpeth, rather than the south, can only be given limited weight as they are at too early a stage.
He found there is no five-year supply of housing sites so settlement boundary policies were also limited, and the provision of 119 affordable homes was welcomed.
The impact on traffic, landscape and school places was not considered severe, and Mr Pickles said flooding concerns could be addressed by conditions.
He found that the scheme would have economic, social and some environmental benefits.
Barratt Homes North East Land Director Neil Milburn said: “We are delighted that the inspector chose to overturn the council’s reasons for refusal and facilitate this much needed development of new homes set within a fantastic landscape frame.
“Not only will it deliver much needed affordable and market homes, but it will bring major economic benefits, including 180 jobs, £4million for the council through the New Homes Bonus and an additional £650,000-a-year in council tax receipts.
“We have engaged successfully with the local community so far and we look forward to continuing that engagement as plans progress. We hope to commence construction in the summer of 2015.”
However, Hepscott Parish Chairman Philip Ashmore said: “It is a black day for south Morpeth, for Hepscott and most of all for so-called localism.
“We have to be vigilant against further development because the developers are circling and they will be looking to fill the planning vacuum that exists.
“This is a step towards Hepscott being subsumed into Morpeth. It is also further evidence that no one seems to care about the flooding in Hepscott. The Loansdean development discharges into headwaters of the Hepscott Burn, the Stobhill development will discharge into the headwaters of the burn.
“It appears that nobody wants to help us. In fact they seem to want to make the situation worse.”
He added: “We have had terrific support from the people of Hepscott and south Morpeth. I want to thank everyone who has supported us.”
Northumberland County Council Head of Planning and Housing Karen Ledger said: “We are disappointed with the decision and will be reviewing the five-year housing land supply position around Morpeth as a result.”