Main parties conclude their case on housing plans

Planning inquiry at Morpeth Town Hall.'REF 2207149707
Planning inquiry at Morpeth Town Hall.'REF 2207149707

The inquiry into plans to build almost 400 houses at Stobhill has concluded.

Numerous issues were raised during the two-week hearing by Inspector Pete Drew over an appeal by Barratt David Wilson Homes and Tees Valley Housing to build 396 properties.

Leading the community fight against the development was the Hepscott and Morpeth Together (HMT) group.

In her closing statement, HMT representative Joan Tebbutt highlighted concerns about the road network, disputing traffic modelling results and pointing out that the Morpeth Northern Bypass may not be approved so cannot be relied upon to reduce congestion. In any case, she said its benefits would be wiped out if the Stobhill scheme goes ahead.

She said most facilities are not within accepted walking distance of the site, and she was concerned about the “impossibility” of creating safe cycle lanes.

Turning to flood risk, Coun Tebbutt said that it had not been robustly demonstrated that the risk would not be increased by the development.

And she said the scheme would constitute “an unacceptable urban intrusion into the open countryside”, reducing the green buffer between Morpeth and Hepscott.

A shortage of school places was highlighted, and HMT also questioned the type of affordable housing proposed.

Coun Tebbutt said plans to focus development north of Morpeth were not new and had not changed, and that the Stobhill site is not sustainable. She also disputed that there is a need for more housing land in the area.

“We have demonstrated that significant harm would be caused to the landscape, the road network and its users, and both the immediate and longer-term effectiveness of the bypass as regards its role in reducing congestion in Morpeth,” she said.

“We also have concerns re flooding and sewage overflows and believe the potential exists for yet further harm to result.

“In contrast, we do not believe that the affordable homes offer is appropriate enough in terms of the size requirement and cost requirements to outweigh the harm.”

She added: “We are the ones, and indeed the appellants’ new residents would also be the ones, to have to live with the harmful consequences of the proposal should it go ahead.”

Simon Pickles QC, representing Northumberland County Council, said the development would significantly damage the transition between settlement and countryside, harming the character of Morpeth and its gateway.

He said the road network is already under stress and the development would add significantly to congestion, and that the site is not within acceptable walking distance of local services.

“The adverse impacts are genuinely significant, have been demonstrated, and do significantly outweigh the benefits of the proposed development when viewed in their proper context,” he said.

Sasha White QC, representing Barratt, spoke of development as a “force for good”.

He said there is a great need for homes, particularly affordable ones, with no current five-year supply of housing land in the area, meaning that greenfield sites will have to come forward.

He said the scheme would bring ecological, design, flooding and landscape benefits, and it would be sustainable economically, socially and environmentally.

“If the over-riding objectives of the National Planning Policy Framework are to mean anything and have actual teeth to bring about change in the supply of housing, then it requires that this development must be granted consent,” he said.

“The only remaining grounds of objection of the local planning authority are the impact on the landscape and highway impact. They amount to immediate change in the vicinity of the site and journey times of four minutes into the centre post-development. The simple truth is that both do not come close to justifying setting aside the overwhelming factors in favour of the development.

“The planning system demands difficult decisions. It is difficult to grant consent because it will be against the wishes of some, but the parameters of policy require now, and as a matter of priority, more housing in this settlement and the county as a whole.”