Housing bid is opposed by council

BATTLE lines have been drawn as a bid for a new housing estate is set for appeal.

Proposals to build 396 houses on a field at Stobhill have been opposed by Northumberland County Council’s North Area Planning Committee.

Councillors voted by six votes to one that they were minded to turn down the plans, with only Norham and Islandshires member Dougie Watkin voting against officers’ recommendations that the scheme was unsustainable and would could highways concerns.

However, as previously revealed by the Herald, would-be developers Barratt Homes North East and Tees Valley Housing had already lodged an appeal on the grounds that the matter was not decided within the statutory period.

About 60 members of the public crammed into County Hall on Thursday as the application for the site between the A192 and A196 came before councillors.

A 445-name petition and 167 letters of objection had been submitted, along with one letter of support.

Objector Richard Wearmouth urged councillors to add extra grounds for refusal over the cumulative impact on highways and prematurity when the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan is being drafted.

He added: “I urge the committee not only to state that it is minded to refuse this, but to actively contest any appeal by the applicant as strongly as it can.”

A letter was read by Stobhillgate First School Chairman of Governors Adrienne Stoner about the lack of capacity in Morpeth schools to take extra children.

And Simon Cox, who is helping to develop the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, said that 85 per cent of 857 respondents to consultation thought that future housing development should be north of Morpeth and 95 per cent were against sprawling towards Hepscott.

Hepscott Parish Council Chairman Philip Ashmore raised doubts about Environment Agency flood risk modelling and the capacity of the proposed drainage system.

He said: “Hepscott has been flooded badly three times in the last five years so above all else we want security against flooding, not suspect computer programmes that tell us everything will be alright on the night.”

He said the development would risk road safety and the application was “an attempt to get onto a site before the shutters come down”.

He added that the development would double the size of Hepscott, leading to coalescence with Morpeth.

Morpeth Town councillor Alison Byard said: “This development is unsustainable, inappropriate, it does not comply with the National Planning Policy Framework and this is highly unlikely to feature as a development site in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan.”

County member Glen Sanderson added: “This opposition is from people who care about their community, their landscape, their children, their roads and where they live.”

However, Neil Milburn, representing the applicants, said Morpeth was identified for growth and was in need of new homes.

He said: “The shortage of housing is so severe that the cost of a new home in Morpeth is 27 per cent higher than across Northumberland, and the average price nearly 12 times higher than salary.

“As a result, working families are leaving Morpeth. If we project the statistics forward there will be no working age families left in the town in 35 years.”

He added that the council accepted that housing could be built south of the town with its proposals to sell-off County Hall.

Mr Milburn said an appeal was lodged as a paid-for pre-application meeting never took place, a decision should have been made in November, highways’ feedback took 14 weeks and the applicants were not aware of highways concerns until ten days before the committee report was published.

Planning consultant Neil Morton said that Morpeth’s settlement limits policy was out of date and the council accepted that development outside boundaries was needed, while landscape impact would be minimal.

He said benefits of the scheme would include £4million from the New Homes Bonus, £650,000 in council tax payments, the creation of 180 jobs, 119 affordable homes, ecology improvements and a reduction in flood risk.

He argued there would be no severe impact on highways and local plans were at too early a stage to say the application was premature.

Coun Gavin Jones questioned whether drainage ponds would be safe on a family estate, but was told they would be covered by health and safety legislation.

Coun Gordon Castle asked about the difference between the Stobhill site and one at Loansdean where the council is not defending an appeal for housing.

Head of Development Services Karen Ledger said: “We have to draw comparisons between the two developments, but as officers we have to look at each case on its merits.

“We consider that this application would not be sustainable development. It is the scale and the location — it very much feels like an open countryside site. That is the key difference.”

Coun Castle moved that the members were minded to refuse the application as it was in open countryside, beyond the settlement boundary, the harm would outweigh the benefits, access and the internal layout could risk road safety and there was insufficient data on the impact on the road network or sustainable transport.

After the meeting, Barrat Homes North East Managing Director Mike Roberts said he was disappointed.

He said the site had no specific landscape designation, while three of the four highways concerns could have settled by conditions and a suggested under-estimation of additional traffic was not sufficient to justify refusal.

He added: “We were also disappointed to hear the officers inform members that the scheme was economically unsustainable.

“We are particularly surprised by this as it seems Northumberland County Council appears to want to cap growth as our research, which was not disputed, demonstrated that the project would bring with it major economic benefits.”

He anticipates the appeal will be heard in June or July.