Housing bid taken out of council hands

A SHOCK appeal has been lodged over Stobhill housing plans even before they go before councillors.

Barratt Homes North East and Tees Valley Housing Association have taken the action over their plans to build 396 homes beside the Stobhill roundabout, on the edge of Morpeth.

It means a decision on the application has been taken out of council hands just a week before the North Area Planning Committee was due to consider it.

An independent planning inspector will now determine the bid, but the committee will still go ahead with its scheduled meeting to discuss the proposal.

The applicants are appealing on the grounds of non-determination, saying the planning authority has failed to reach a decision on whether to grant permission or not within the statutory period.

They say they were left with no choice but to take action after repeated requests for information were ignored.

The council insists it communicated regularly with the developers.

Barratt Homes North East Managing Director Mike Roberts said: “In order to make progress, we wrote to the council three times – twice in December and once again in early January – asking for feedback on the issues that it considered pertinent to the application and a committee date for its consideration.

“We informed the council that if it didn’t provide feedback, we would appeal non-determination as that would at least identify what the council’s position is.

“Whilst the council and ourselves agree that there is no five-year housing supply and that the site is sustainable, we regret that it never responded to any of these requests for feedback.

“We were therefore left with no option to progress and informed the council in early January that we were pursuing a non-determination appeal.

“We deeply regret that we feel obliged to remove the decision from the local council, but its failure to respond or engage with us has left us with no alternative.”

The application is for a 17-hectare greenfield site beside the A192 and A196.

County councillor Glen Sanderson, who represents nearby Hepscott, has slammed the developers’ decision.

He said concerns remain about the scheme on issues such as road safety and congestion, lack of school places, flooding, drainage and development in the countryside, and he warned that residents will continue to fight the proposal.

“I think the applicants have shown a pretty cavalier attitude to the whole town of Morpeth and its people, and particularly towards those living in the areas of Stobhill and Hepscott,” he said.

“Those residents have been put through months of insecurity and worry about a wholly unacceptable application.

“This decision to appeal perhaps stiffens the resolve of those who are fighting against these plans and I think that when it comes the public inquiry the inspector will be in no doubt as to the strength of feeling held by residents.”

He added: “This is not the way to win friends and influence people.”

Coun Sanderson said residents are still waiting for details of a traffic survey for the site, a second opinion on flood risk and information about the availability of school places in the area.

Turn to Page 3

But he said it is important that the planning meeting next week still goes ahead.

“We are waiting for information that is pretty important for Morpeth and the surrounding villages,” he said.

“The appeal will obviously change things now in that the decision will be put in the hands of an inspector, but that doesn’t change the issues about the site and all the input from people.

“This still needs to go to the committee and whatever the formal recommendation is, I know that local people will show how they feel at the meeting.”

A county council spokeswoman has confirmed that the matter will be discussed at the planning committee on Thursday, February 20.

She said: “The council is aware that an appeal against non-determination has been lodged by the applicant.

“While this takes the decision out of the council’s hands, it remains the intention to present a report to the North Area Planning Committee on February 20 to obtain a resolution from members on how they would have determined the application had they been able to do so.

“The council has communicated regularly with the applicants during its consideration of the planning application to ensure that they are aware of the issues being raised through the consultation process.”

Both Morpeth Town and Hepscott Parish councils have objected to the plans and a 400-name petition has been submitted against them.

However, the developers say the scheme would help to meet demand for family homes, provide 180 jobs, £4million in council funding through the New Homes Bonus and £650,000 a year in council tax receipts.

Mr Roberts said: “All parties agree that there is a significant shortage of new homes and a high demand in Morpeth, which is identified as an area for growth and a focus for new development within Northumberland as a result of the range of services and facilities that it provides.

“We absolutely believe this development would help to meet the undoubted demand for family housing in the town and bring many positive benefits to the area and local community.”

The planning meeting will take place at County Hall in Morpeth, at 6pm.