Loansdean housing appeals granted

Unpopular plans to build 200 houses on the edge of Morpeth have been granted.

Independent Planning Inspector Philip Major has allowed two appeals by Bellway Homes over a site at Loansdean.

The developer can now choose whether to build 200 homes from its first application, or 186 dwellings from the later one. In both cases, ancillary commercial development is also allowed.

Partial costs have been awarded against Northumberland County Council.

A spokesman for Bellway said: “We are pleased that the inspector has granted our appeal. The development will help satisfy the demand for new family homes in the area.”

Northumberland County Council initially rejected plans for 200 homes at the greenfield site south of The Chip in February 2012, and an appeal by the developer was dismissed in 2012.

However, Bellway took the matter to the High Court and the decision was quashed, forcing a second hearing.

The inquiry took place in Morpeth Town Hall in March, together with a hearing into a second application by Bellway for 186 homes at the site, which had been refused by the council in October.

This time, Mr Major found in favour of the applicant, rejecting all of arguments against the development that were put forward by residents’ group the South Morpeth Coalition (SMC), which had been left to fight the appeals alone after the county council pulled out.

He found that there was no adequate five-year supply of housing land, disputing SMC’s assertion that there was plenty.

He said the group’s methodology risked “inaccuracies and loss of clarity”, putting greater weight on figures presented by the council and consultants Barton Willmore, which he said were based on the latest available data.

The report states: “Supply on any reliable measure in this case is well below objectively assessed need, and it is worth remembering that Morpeth is proposed to be a main town and location for significant growth in the future. Unless rates of provision are stepped up then achievement of the growth envisaged must be in doubt.

“The only reasonable conclusion which can be reached is that there is no demonstrated five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.”

Mr Major recognised that there is a clear preference in the emerging Neighbourhood Plan for development to take place in the northern part of the town, but he said that, to date, a limited outcome has been achieved.

He added that there is no embargo on development in the south of the town, and that allowing the Bellway applications would not have any effect on the future supply in the north.

“The general preferences of local people for development to the north of the town would still remain and be capable of being progressed through future procedures,” he said.

“Hence, there would be no significant or demonstrable harm to the emerging Core Strategy or the emerging Neighbourhood Plan if either of the appeal proposals were to be permitted.”

Mr Major acknowledged that the town’s facilities tend to be located north of the River Wansbeck, but he said that the site is within possible walking distance and there are good public transport links, while the development would have the potential to provide local services in Loansdean.

He welcomed the applicant’s commitment to provide affordable homes in its scheme.

The inspector said greenfield sites cannot be ruled out for development if the aim of national planning policy to boost housing supply is to be met, and he said that while there would be changes to the landscape corridor in the area, its effect would substantially remain.

He added: “In my judgement, the overall impact on character and appearance would be of moderate magnitude. It would be correct to describe it as not unduly significant. Nonetheless, the harm must be weighed against the benefits of the schemes.”

Mr Major was also satisfied that flood risk and drainage could be adequately dealt with by conditions.

He said: “I do not take the evidence given by local people who have direct experience of the situation lightly, and recognise their worries about the effectiveness of the proposed sustainable drainage system. Indeed, in many ways their evidence is the best source of information.

“But the expert evidence which deals with modelling of flows and attenuation has not been shown to be unreliable and it has followed accepted and tried methodology.

“I cannot agree that the suggestion that attenuation ponds should be expanded greatly has been justified by substantive and credible evidence and measurement.”

Mr Major said there was “compelling evidence” that the impact on traffic flows and highway safety from development would be slight.

And he said the proposed site was sustainable, with the applications offering significant social benefits.

Mr Major said that many of the arguments put forward against the applications relied on outdated local planning policies.

SMC member David Holden said: “The South Morpeth Coalition did its best to represent the views of the local residents. We are disappointed that it wasn’t enough to convince the inspector.

“Planning legislation is weighted heavily in favour of the developers. The only thing that is going to counterbalance that is to update the Local Plan. The county council has let residents down badly by taking so long to form a Core Strategy and to get the Morpeth Bypass in place.

“Without a Local Plan and Core Strategy, we are at the mercy of developers such as Bellway. Until we get the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan in place, south Morpeth is under threat from speculative development and over-development.”

He added: “The only thing we could do now is to do what Bellway did to us and to lodge a claim for a judicial review. I don’t think we have grounds for that and we certainly haven’t got the funds for that.

“It is now up to Bellway to build any of the applications it likes.”