Inquiry starts with debate about area’s housing needs over the next five years

The start of the Bellway housing appeal for the Loansdean area of Morpeth at Morpeth Town Hall. GM034941
The start of the Bellway housing appeal for the Loansdean area of Morpeth at Morpeth Town Hall. GM034941

BOTH sides have been setting out their arguments in the fight over Loansdean housing plans.

Planning Inspector Philip Major is hearing two appeals by Bellway Homes North East – one to build 200 properties and the other for 186, on land south of The Chip.

Bellway representative Ian Dove QC said the plans would deliver high quality, much-needed homes.

“It is obvious that the presumption in favour of the grant of permission must apply to these appeals,” he said.

“The extant Local Plan has been time-expired for eight years now and the emerging Core Strategy is still undergoing consultation.

“In addition, the presumption in favour of the grant of permission applies for a second reason in that the council cannot demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.

“The provision of much-needed housing and urgently needed affordable housing represent significant benefits of the schemes.

“The schemes also offer improvements to the drainage of the site, a more considered and attractive border to the urban edge than currently exists, mitigation works which will benefit the local transport network, an improvement to the quality and biodiversity of the woodlands on the site, and a network of footpaths connecting several public open spaces where none currently exist.”

However, the South Morpeth Coalition (SMC), which is backed by almost 500 residents, said it will show that both existing and emerging local planning policies should apply and there is more than enough supply of housing land and affordable housing in the pipeline.

Member Joan Tebbutt said: “This community has, over decades, been willing to work realistically with planners and developers and to compromise where appropriate to ensure that decisions about development are driven by the needs and wishes of their town.

“Very few houses are directly affected by either of the two proposals so we are not stubborn ‘NIMBYs’ as we do fully understand and consider the implications for the whole town.

“We recognise that a holistic view must be taken of Morpeth’s development and that piecemeal development at the whim of opportunistic developers is not appropriate in the long-term interests of a sustainable Morpeth.”

She said it is widely considered that development should be to the north of the town, not the south, the appeal site is not sustainable for such proposals and the scheme would lead to urban sprawl, as well as risk flooding elsewhere.

Housing land supply was discussed in the early stages of the inquiry and SMC member David Holden set out the group’s position as to why it believes the homes at the Loansdean site are not required.

Morpeth was previously part of the Castle Morpeth Borough (CMB) housing market area and it was grouped together with Tynedale (City Region Commuter Area), but the abolition of district councils has made assessments more complex and the county council’s core strategy, which will include housing targets, is still in the planning stage.

Using figures from the local Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) as planners at the Northumberland authority are still using them to inform planning decisions, Mr Holden said that there is a sufficient five-year housing supply (2013-18) from a range of schemes such as Northgate Hospital and St George’s Hospital in Morpeth and Bellville House in Ponteland.

“We believe that a five per cent buffer for housing units is the most appropriate, but our evidence shows that each of CMB, Tynedale and CRCA has a demonstrable housing supply, even when challenged by a 20 per cent buffer requirement,” he added.

During cross examination, Mr Dove said that recent Court of Appeal rulings means that RSS figures can no longer be used when considering housing targets.

Barton Willmore LLP did a housing supply study on behalf of Bellway and planning partner at the firm, James Hall, argued that many more homes are needed over the next five years than set out by SMC.

He said: “There has been a chronic shortfall in delivery of all types of housing over recent years within the former district of Castle Morpeth, but in particular within Morpeth itself.

“Further to this, through forensic assessment of the existing supply of deliverable homes, it is clearly demonstrated that the county council does not have an identified five-year land supply of deliverable homes.

“In my experience, housing schemes on former hospital sites take a long time before the first units are completed.”

In cross examination, Mr Holden questioned the credibility of his figures as one of the scenarios put forward by Mr Hall showed a five-year housing under supply for the CRCA region of 2,710 where the equivalent total number of homes required as calculated by the SMC is 1,320.