Major Morpeth applications get approval recommendation

Controversial plans for housing and retail on the edge of Morpeth have been recommended for approval, despite hundreds of objections.

Thursday, 2nd March 2017, 10:30 am
Updated Thursday, 23rd March 2017, 3:42 pm
Protesters march in Morpeth against the plans for out-of-town development and housing on the County Hall site. Picture by Frank Reid.

More than 1,000 people marched to County Hall last Friday to make their points in person. Opponents are hoping that the Government will have the final say on the bids.

The meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee to determine the applications will take place at this venue on Tuesday from 2pm.

Following a process where the Labour-run authority invited bids, a proposal was put forward to build up to 200 new homes at the local authority’s current headquarters site in Loansdean.

A bid was lodged for a new supermarket, retail units, drive-thru restaurant and a pub on the former fire station and Merley Croft sites and there was an application to relocate Morpeth First School to the front of County Hall, which is also being recommended for approval.

The plans for housing and retail have been met with 1,557 individual letters of objection from residents and businesses.

Call-in requests for the Government to decide whether or not planning permission should be granted have been made by Morpeth Town Council, the Morpeth Chamber of Trade, South Morpeth Coalition (SMC), local Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups, Anne Marie Trevelyan MP, Guy Opperman MP and Coun Joan Tebbutt as chairman of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group.

David Holden of the SMC said: “These recommendations are a disgrace and are an insult to the thousands of Morpeth residents who voted to endorse the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan last year.

“The plan makes clear the uses for the site which include business, hotels, health and leisure. Retail and housing get no mention whatsoever.

“Committee members also need to decide if a fast food drive-thru directly opposite a school is acceptable.”

He added: “The whole process has been rushed and chaotic. The plans have been given undue priority to meet a timescale driven by the council’s interest as landowner.”

Major concerns among those who have objected also include the impact of the retail park on businesses in the main town centre.

Chairman of Morpeth Chamber of Trade and organiser of the march, Jacky Beesley, said: “Will the penny now drop with the council leader, Grant Davey, that these plans will destroy Morpeth as a market town and town-centre businesses?

“Any future retail development could and should be in the town centre. An edge-of-town retail park and a small market town do not mix.

“Morrisons is the town centre’s major employer and to go ahead with a scheme that would risk more than 200 jobs is madness.

“Dransfield Properties, which owns Sanderson Arcade, has also objected and Chamber members are telling me that they fear for the future of their businesses.”

A county council spokesman said: “As we have said previously, all views and comments made in response to the planning applications will be taken into account by the strategic planning committee in due course.

“The Government is clear that Neighbourhood Plans are not there to prevent development from taking place, but can influence where new development is located, and the design, layout and materials used.

“Neighbourhood Plans can help to ensure that new development is sympathetic to the surrounding area and meets the needs of the local community. The applications will take into account the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, saved policies of the Castle Morpeth Local Plan, as well as being considered against all relevant national and local planning policies.”