Is long-running planning saga finally at an end?

Tranwell Woods, near Morpeth. Picture by Jane Coltman
Tranwell Woods, near Morpeth. Picture by Jane Coltman

Plans for a new home in woodland near Morpeth, which have been approved three times in recent years only to be quashed in court, have now been turned down.

The current outline application, for a single-storey, detached, five-bedroom house on land west of Bramblings, in Tranwell Woods, dates back to 2014.

However, the site history goes back three decades with bids for planning permission being refused in 1989, twice in 1999 – with one appeal dismissed by an inspector in 2000, in 2008 – dismissed on appeal in 2009, and in 2013.

This latest application was first given the go-ahead in November 2014, before being subject to judicial review and quashed by the High Court in March 2015.

On its second go, the bid was approved in December 2015 before being quashed in April 2016, while the final approval was granted in July 2016 but again fell foul of a High Court judge in a decision issued in March 2017.

Northumberland County Council decided to challenge this in the Court of Appeal, but this was thrown out in July last year.

And at Monday’s (April 8) meeting of the Castle Morpeth Local Area Council, members followed the planners’ latest advice to reject the application by five votes to one, with one abstention.

The report to councillors explained that the recommendation of refusal was based on the plans being reassessed alongside the inspector’s decision of 2009, the High Court decision and the Court of Appeal decision.

The site is in the green belt and the whole saga is based on the fact that the application could only be acceptable if it represented ‘limited infilling in a village’.

This was what the council’s previous recommendations for approval relied on, but there is no agreement that Tranwell Woods is a village and, more importantly, that this is infilling, neither of which is defined clearly in either national or local planning policies.

However, the 2009 appeal ruling suggested that a reasonable test of infilling was that it represented a ‘gap in an otherwise developed frontage’.

Speaking at this week’s meeting, Dr David Tate, who was responsible for the three judicial reviews, maintained his view that Tranwell Woods is not a village, suggesting it would be the only one in England without a 30mph limit.

He also said that there is now a ‘clear and sensible’ definition of infill, which this proposal does not meet.

“People enjoy walking through Tranwell Woods, it’s an oasis of calm in a relatively busy area,” he added.

But Barry George, the father of the applicant, Susan Leffers-Smith, said: “The NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) deliberately does not define village or infill, because it’s a matter of planning judgement.”

He added that the council was giving into pressure from Dr Tate, who ‘had caused a huge amount of public expense’.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service