Hundreds oppose big plans for ‘retail park’

The ongoing demolition of the fire station and Merley Croft sites, near County Hall in Morpeth.
The ongoing demolition of the fire station and Merley Croft sites, near County Hall in Morpeth.

More than 300 objections against an application for a commercial scheme on the former fire station and Merley Croft sites in Morpeth have now been submitted.

As well as residents, traders and business organisations have raised concerns about its potential impact.

The proposal for full permission includes retail floor space, a food store, drive-thru restaurant and family pub/restaurant.

They were submitted earlier this month on behalf of Maple Grove Developments after Northumberland County Council invited bids for these sites and the current County Hall (it is moving its headquarters to Ashington).

Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade spokesman John Beynon said: “The Chamber has for many years successfully fought off edge and out-of-town retail developments, as we are all aware any town centre that has had such a development has suffered a major negative effect.

“It is frustrating that it is not a developer from the other side of the country that has no interest in retaining the character or the viability of Morpeth, but our very own county council.

“The jobs that the applicants claim will be created will never compensate for the loss of jobs and businesses in the town centre.

“Unfortunately, it will not be the multiples who will suffer but our local independent shops run and owned by local people that could well be forced to close.

“Many studies have been undertaken, including by Mary Portas, that councils must fight against such developments and invest in town centres.

“It is not only the retailers and workers of the town who are calling for this administration to reconsider its disastrous plans, but also many members of the public.

“The Chamber of Trade is always willing to consult with the council’s administration on ways of developing the town while maintaining its historic character.”

In the planning statement for the proposal, the applicants state that a retail and leisure statement ‘confirms that the development would not have any significant adverse impact on town-centre vitality and, in fact, would have a positive impact by enhancing local consumer choice and providing an improved range of convenience and comparison retailing and leisure facilities within the local area’.

Dransfield Properties, which developed and owns Sanderson Arcade, takes a different view.

Its objection includes the following: ‘The application misrepresents the scheme as a retail and leisure proposal.

‘It would be more than two-thirds the size of Sanderson Arcade, with car parking of the same size as the main town-centre facility. It should be understood as an out-of-centre retail park that will compete directly with the town centre.’

The South Morpeth Coalition is leading the campaign against this application and the bid for new housing on the County Hall site.

One of its members, Coun Joan Tebbutt, said: “Morpeth has a fantastic town centre, but it is also a fragile centre with the loss of a number of well-known independent traders in recent years, including Smails and the Appleby’s bookshop.

“A retail park of such a size with a car park of more than 300 spaces will damage Morpeth and we are determined to stop it.”