Controversial plans for a major development on the outskirts of Morpeth were given the go-ahead today in front of a packed and hostile council chamber.
The vast majority, if not all, of the members of the public at County Hall this afternoon were opposed to Mitford Estate’s amended outline bid for a greenfield site to the north and west of Lancaster Park.
But while four of the councillors sided with the objectors – who resorted to cries of ‘shame’ as the decision was made – the other 10 members of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee voted to approve the application.
A previous scheme, which was refused in November 2015 and is awaiting an appeal hearing, had been amended to reduce the number of homes to 150 while the employment offer – the main feature of which is a 2,100 sq ft ‘innovation centre’ – was increased following the county council’s decision to allocate the site as designated employment land in its major modifications to the core strategy.
Today’s meeting heard that this was due to a site designated as employment land at Fairmoor not being available until 2020 due to an option held by a housing developer.
Also included in the plans are a 60-bed hotel, roadside services, a pub/restaurant and parkland.
Members heard strong arguments against the scheme from the local ward member, Coun David Bawn, resident Peter Birchall and Coun Joan Tebbutt, of Morpeth Town Council, before Coun Andrew Tebbutt, ward member for Morpeth Kirkhill, moved refusal of the scheme as it would contravene the policies in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan and the emerging core strategy.
Coun Bawn had said: “Why have local planning policies if any developer can trump them, claiming economic benefits?”
However, the view of the planning officers, who had recommended approval, was that ‘the economic benefits that the proposals would generate far outweigh the development plan policies on which the proposals would be contrary’, particularly given the current lack of available employment land, itself another key aspect of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan.
And this view was supported by one of the speakers – Coun Mike Sharp, chairman of Mitford Parish Council, who said: “These are uncertain times, you can’t be cavalier with employment opportunities.”
Coun Tebbutt’s motion to refuse was defeated by 10 votes to four, before the committee voted to approve the development by the same margin.
Coun Trevor Thorne said: “I think the economic benefits it brings to Morpeth are enormous. I think a lot of towns up and down Northumberland would be delighted with such an application.”
The approval is subject to the satisfactory resolution of noise issues raised by the council’s public protection team and the completion of a section 106 legal agreement to secure 30 per cent affordable housing, a new access onto the Morpeth Northern Bypass, a financial contribution towards bus diversions, the long-term management of the countryside park and a voluntary contribution of £200,000 towards education.
The meeting also heard that a request has already been made for the scheme to be considered by the Secretary of State to decide if he wishes to call it in, which could lead to a public inquiry.
The application was set to go before councillors last month, but it was deferred just before the meeting because ‘issues have arisen at a late stage, which require further consideration by officers’. However, the recommendation to approve the scheme remained.