Hopes rise to halt the march of developers

The race is on to end the siege by Morpeth developers after a boost to neighbourhood planning.

Concerns have been growing of a ‘free-for-all’ for house-builders due to the lack of a current Local Plan to control where development can take place.

It had been feared that the policy void would continue until summer 2016 when Northumberland County Council’s Core Strategy is set to come into force.

But hopes are rising that the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, drawn up by the community, could be in place within six months.

Initially, it was thought that it could not be adopted until the Core Strategy was approved, but now a High Court ruling on the Winslow Neighbourhood Plan in Buckinghamshire has suggested that it is not the case.

Plan Steering Group Chairman Joan Tebbutt said: “It is a complex legal judgment, but basically it says that because the neighbourhood plan had made allowances for growth and a lot of appropriate work had been done, then it could go ahead.

“It now looks as though, once our plan gets through the current consultation and we come up with a final draft, we should be able to go ahead with the referendum and get it in place.

“This would give Morpeth the protection it needs.”

Existing planning policies on issues such as housing numbers, settlement boundaries and site designations currently carry little weight as they are considered out-dated, and in recent months permission has been given for hundreds of homes to be built at Loansdean, Stobhill and Fairmoor, despite fierce opposition.

Work to draw up the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, including the surrounding parishes of Pegswood, Hepscott, Hebron and Mitford, has been taking place over the last two years, with topic groups considering policies for housing, the economy, heritage, environment, education, transport, and sport and leisure.

In recent appeal hearings into housing applications for Loansdean and Stobhill, campaigners said that the emerging Plan envisaged house-building in the north of Morpeth, rather than the south, and that the proposals were premature given the progress of the document.

At the time, it was given little weight by inspectors due to the early stage of the Plan, but now such arguments may be considered.

Coun Tebbutt said: “It is believed that now the Core Strategy and Neighbourhood Plan are in ‘preferred options’ form that we could, at any public inquiry, use prematurity as an argument and development should not be considered at this time.

“Developers are circling and we know we have a Secretary of State who is in favour of development so having the Plan is so important to protect the town.”

She added: “I really do believe that there is a limit for Morpeth. It can’t just carry on growing and growing unless there is a commitment to other major infrastructure and more investment in surgeries, libraries, schools, leisure centres and a second bridge.

“Hopefully, people will take notice of us now.”

A Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “Neighbourhood development plans can be prepared ahead of the introduction of a Local Plan. This is set out in legislation and has been confirmed in a recent High Court judgement.

“The council has been working closely with the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Group, providing technical advice to support it through the process of preparing a neighbourhood development plan. We will continue to support preparation of the Plan, which can set out locally distinctive planning policies to help in guiding decisions on development proposals in Morpeth and the adjoining parishes.”