The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan was granted final approval this morning after the threat of legal challenge forced a deferral last month.
At today’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s decision-making cabinet, members agreed to ‘make’ formally the neighbourhood plan – one of the first in Northumberland to get to this stage.
At the April meeting, members were expecting to give the final sign-off with the plan having passed independent examination in September last year followed by a referendum in February in which 93.4 per cent of those voting supported the plan, based on a turnout of 29.5 per cent.
However, members were shocked to hear that the local authority had received notice of a possible judicial review just five days before the meeting. The grounds of the challenge, which was made by Mitford Estate and described by one councillor as ‘a pretty despicable act’, had only been received earlier that day.
Recommending that the cabinet deferred its decision to this month’s meeting, senior planning manager Mark Ketley said: “We feel we would probably be able to put up a robust defence, but we do need some time to consider this and take some legal advice.”
This proved to be the case as a report to today’s meeting stated: ‘Officers are now satisfied that the external legal advice obtained adequately supports the conclusion that the draft Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan may properly be made and, consistently, that a challenge by way of judicial review on the proposed grounds advanced by the third party could properly be defended’.
Coun Ian Swithenbank said: “The sooner this is approved, the better for Morpeth frankly.” Coun Jeff Reid added: “Let’s just get on with it.”
Coun Peter Jackson described it as ‘great news for Morpeth’, adding: “We have had a delay for one month for legal advice. In the long term, it was worth doing that and it will show that this council has been very diligent on its part in the way it’s running things.
“We must be trailblazers in the country because most of our towns and parishes are creating one (a neighbourhood plan). People up and down the county are crying out for some protection (from developers).”