Housing battle goes to the next round

BATTLE has resumed in the bid to block a housing development on the edge of Morpeth.

Bellway Homes initially had plans for 200 homes on a greenfield site at South Loansdean turned down by Northumberland County Council in February last year.

An appeal was rejected in August after a planning inquiry at Morpeth Town Hall, but when Bellway took it to the High Court, the Planning Inspectorate conceded on a dispute over the interpretation of affordable-housing figures, triggering the need for the appeal to be re-determined by a different inspector.

Now the South Morpeth Coalition residents’ group, which successfully defended the original planning decision when the county council pulled out of the process, has been told the appeal will be decided by written representation.

Chairman David Holden said: “The appeal is not going to be a public inquiry, it is being decided through written representations, which is what we wanted. We felt that all the issues had come out at the Town Hall and having full-time jobs, we couldn’t guarantee that our key people could be available for another inquiry.

“The inspector will consider all of the issues again and any major changes in circumstances that have happened since the appeal. We think there have been quite a few.”

The group’s further representations include concerns about the applicant’s Flood Risk Assessment against the National Planning Policy Framework, which was not in place when the original application was made. Residents also point to a revised application for the same site, which has led to objections from a county council officer and the Environment Agency over the risk of surface water flooding.

Other issues include sewage treatment capacity, the sewerage network system and progress on potential housing development sites to the north of Morpeth, which could supply more than 800 homes. The coalition also contests affordable-housing need figures.

Mr Holden said: “We were confident we would win before and we did, but that has been overturned and it is a setback. We still feel that we have strong arguments, but it does seem that the system is skewed towards the developers, rather than the local population.

However, we think we have compelling arguments.”

Morpeth Town Council has also decided to strengthen its objections to the application.

Coun David Parker said: “One of our original objections was that this application was premature. We are in the process of producing a Neighbourhood Plan, which is about the whole future of the town and where housing might be located. If Bellway was successful at Loansdean that reduces the people of Morpeth’s ability to make a judgement about where future housing should be.

“The nearer you are to a plan being approved, the more likely they are to listen to the arguments of prematurity. We are a lot nearer now to that than we were at the original appeal.”

An inspector is due to visit the appeal site next month before making a judgement.