Three new homes on a redundant farm steading in the green belt around Morpeth have been narrowly rejected – but at the second time of asking.
The bid to to demolish some run-down barns and replace them with three houses at Benridge Moor Farm, to the north-east of Pigdon, first went before the Castle Morpeth Local Area Council in November, where it was recommended for refusal.
But members approved the scheme by six votes to three, with one abstention, after being persuaded by the argument of the applicant’s agents that the proposals would bring a redundant site back into use, get rid of derelict buildings and create houses which reflect the local character.
The new homes would not be the only properties in the area as Benridge Moor is a small hamlet of five dwellings and agricultural buildings, less than 1km away from the Heighley Gate garden-centre site and with good access to Morpeth.
But on Monday (March 11), the scheme was back for another decision, because, according to the officer report, councillors had not addressed some of the material considerations, such as conflict with green-belt purposes and harm to openness.
‘It is not considered that positive factors referred to clearly outweigh the harmful impacts of development when properly considered,’ it added.
This was further muddied by the fact that the committee went into private session for well over half-an-hour to hear about legal advice received by the council before the press and public were allowed back in to hear the debate on the new decision.
The previous approval had clearly been in line with public opinion as a decent number of residents in attendance applauded at the end of a speech by Derek Robson, who lives at Benridge Moor House, setting out how the new homes would improve the ‘derelict and unsightly’ site.
The applicant’s agent, Craig Ross, from George F White, criticised the process, saying: “We are of the opinion that we are being kept at arm’s length. We accept that there are no guarantees in planning, but when a decision is made, a decision is made.
“Officers have brought it back to make you change your decision, to scare you with issues of precedent.”
Coun Richard Dodd, who moved refusal, conceded it was not a pretty site, but pointed out that this council had ‘suffered a lot of pain’ over its efforts to protect the green belt.
“I have said before that the green belt is a blunt instrument, but I don’t think this is a good idea,” he added.
However, Coun David Towns said: “I have taken on board what’s been said and what we discussed in private session, but I disagree with the officers’s recommendation.
“I think what’s being proposed, instead of harming the openness of the countryside, will improve the openness of the countryside, it will make Benridge Moor better.”
In the end, the scheme was refused by four votes to three, with three abstentions.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service