Let battle commence

RESIDENTS are preparing themselves for round three in the battle to protect an area of Morpeth countryside against proposals for a major housing estate.

Housing developer Bellway has now submitted a new planning application for 186 homes and outline consent for a commercial building at Loansdean.

The number of properties has been slightly reduced and a few other changes have been made to its first bid, which was rejected by Northumberland County Council’s North Area Planning Committee.

That decision went to appeal and a hearing was held in Morpeth Town Hall. Planning Inspector Malcolm Rivett upheld the refusal because he considered that the benefits of the scheme, such as the provision of affordable housing, did not outweigh the loss of open countryside and the town boundary should be maintained in its current position.

Representatives of a residents’ opposition group, the South Morpeth Coalition, spoke at the county meeting and appeal and it held a meeting on Monday night to start discussing how it will respond to the fresh proposal.

Coalition member David Holden said: “There was a very strong turnout on Monday, including quite a few new faces, and the conclusion was that residents remain fundamentally opposed to plans for housing on the site.

“We maintain that new homes should be built to the north of the town as there is land earmarked for new developments. The people living in them would be nearer shops, schools and services and traffic wouldn’t have to go across Telford Bridge.

“Other areas would also be affected because the sewage from the site would cause an overload of the system in the town centre and overflows would increase the risk of flooding in Hepscott.

“We hope that many Morpeth residents will submit their objections to the county council. More than 400 people supported our position in regard to the first application.”

Bellway has lodged a High Court Challenge against some of the planning inspector’s findings and Mr Holden said the group expects that a court hearing will take place to determine the outcome.

The North Area Planning Committee pulled out of the appeal after councillors were advised that the outdated Castle Morpeth District Local Plan, which was used as the basis for rejecting the initial Bellway application, was not consistent with the new National Planning Policy Framework.

However, Mr Rivett said the Framework makes it clear that plans should not be considered out of date simply because they were adopted prior to the publication of the document and saved policies remain in place.

He also found that as there is a five-year supply of housing in the area, the Bellway scheme could not be justified as it would breach the long-standing settlement limit of Morpeth and cause significant harm from the loss of open countryside.

He said the affordable-housing factor was reduced as it provided relatively few social rented homes, so the company has increased the proportion of homes to be made available at affordable rent.

Bellway Corporate Affairs Manager Julian Kenyon said the other changes include improvements to the roundabout access to retain more trees in the area, increased landscaping such as the opening up of views along The Chip and revised proposals for the local shops to allow more replacement planting along the main road frontage.

Morpeth Town Council objected to the first proposal, which was for 200 homes, and its Planning and Transport Committee will decide its response to the new application at its next meeting on Wednesday.