Local expert questions job figures for proposed major Morpeth scheme

A Morpeth resident with extensive economic expertise has set out why he believes job figures quoted for a proposed major Morpeth scheme are '˜improbable'.

Friday, 14th December 2018, 7:04 pm
Updated Friday, 14th December 2018, 7:08 pm
Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

The reserved matters application for the non-residential elements of Mitford Estate’s outline scheme on land west of Lancaster Park was submitted to Northumberland County Council in the autumn by Euro Garages UK, part of EG Group.

It is seeking planning permission for a services area, hotel and ‘innovation centre’.

The outline bid for a greenfield site to the north and west of Lancaster Park was approved in September 2016. It was opposed by many Morpeth residents and supporters of the neighbourhood plan and more than 100 objection letters have already been lodged against the new proposal.

The applicant said the development of a Euro Garages site can typically bring a minimum of 50 full and part-time job opportunities to the local community, while the innovation centre could support up to 129 new jobs and the hotel provide up to eight.

Among those objecting is Keith Raine – who was an employee for what was then the Department of Trade and Industry for 30 years, mainly working in industrial development and job creation in the North East.

He spoke to the Herald about his concerns, which include the following.

“Industry Act assistance for job creation in the Assisted Areas such as the North East under successive governments of no matter what political persuasion has always ruled out assistance to local services.

“This is because the chances of net gain in employment arising from public intervention in retail and hospitality, etc, are vanishingly small.

“Local supply will respond to local demand without need of public sector intervention – in this instance, local demand includes existing levels of passing A1 traffic because those numbers will not increase just because a new trunk road service area comes into being.

“Businesses successful in these sectors gain at the expense of local competitors who are less so. Therefore, recruitment by the better performers will be balanced by job losses elsewhere.

“This is known as job displacement i.e not creating new jobs, but shuffling existing ones around.

“No-one is arguing against free competition in local services markets, no matter how weak those markets might be, but there can be no justification for relaxing planning constraints allegedly to help ‘create jobs’ on an unsuitable site when they will subsequently be balanced by corresponding job losses elsewhere in the locality.

“As for the innovation centre, the Homes and Communities Agency’s Employment Density Guide, which has been the sole justification for any of these claims, indicates a maximum of 40 research and development jobs for the space available.

“Any incremental job creation arising from this proposal is likely to be meagre and could not possibly justify exceptional waiving of normal planning considerations and contravention of key provisions of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan relating to preservation of green attractive approaches to the town, its existing settlement boundaries and separation from neighbouring settlements.”

An EG Group spokesman said: “The employment estimates we have made within our planning application are based on many years’ experience.

“In fact, these figures are conservative estimates based on a typical EG site and we anticipate being able to employ more people within the proposed roadside services once we have established precisely which franchise partners will occupy the site.

“The nature of roadside services means that the majority of customers will be those already using the road network, thus capturing spending from motorists who would otherwise pass straight through.

“So, whilst the development will be available to local people, it will not be wholly reliant on the local market.

“The employment created will therefore be new jobs, rather than simply causing job displacement within the area.

“The proposed innovation centre responds to a desire from the council to see employment in this area.

“The commercial risk lies with the developer and we are asking the local authority to make a decision on the planning merits of the application, rather than a judgement on the local market.”