Public inquiry taking place over refused homes in Morpeth
Morpeth’s neighbourhood plan is set to be a key battleground at a public inquiry taking place this week over a refused housing scheme in the town.
The appeal hearing, which started on Tuesday (June 4), relates to Persimmon’s bid to build 53 new homes on land north of The Garth, off Pottery Bank, which has been turned down twice by county councillors.
The original application – the subject of the appeal – was recommended for approval when it went before the Castle Morpeth Local Area Council last February, but members chose to reject it.
The reasons for refusal were a lack of information to assess whether it will have a ‘severe cumulative impact’ on the road network; that the site is not designated for housing in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan (MNP); insufficient information on flood risk; and the adverse impact on the amenity of residents at Pottery Bank Court.
As well as this appeal, the developer also submitted a revised scheme, but this too was refused against officer advice in February this year.
This included revised versions of the transport statement and flood-risk assessment and last November, the committee reluctantly agreed to drop the highways and flooding reasons for refusal from being defended at appeal, but only after being briefed on legal advice in private.
Therefore, planning inspector Helen Heward explained that the two main issues are whether or not the proposal complies with the development plan for the provision of new housing, with particular regard to the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, and the effect of the proposed development on the residential amenity of those living at neighbouring Pottery Bank Court.
However, she also wants clarification on flooding issues and expects to hear about the benefits of the scheme, while highways matters remain of concern to residents, who will be given a chance to speak during the inquiry alongside Morpeth Town Council.
In his opening statement, Paul Cairnes QC, representing Persimmon, underlined that both applications had been recommended for approval by Northumberland County Council’s own professional officers and that no objections had been raised by statutory consultees.
He claimed that there was not necessarily a conflict with the MNP simply because it’s not a designated site for new homes, adding that it is ‘consistent with the strategic role Morpeth plays as a key location for housing’.
Concluding that it was a ‘sustainable form of development in a sustainable location’, he said: “That’s the assessment of the council’s professional officers, which we will also commend to you.”
However, the council’s barrister, Simon Pickles, highlighted how all of the national planning guidance reflects the importance of neighbourhood plans, with recent changes reinforcing that they ‘provide a powerful set of tools’ for communities.
He went onto explain how the MNP expresses a preference for housing elsewhere in the northern area of the town as well as for brownfield sites over greenfield.
Mr Pickles also highlighted that the ‘elevated greenfield site along the A192 contributes to one of the green approaches to the town’, which also forms part of the neighbourhood plan.
He added that the fact the site is within the settlement boundary and the housing numbers in the plans are minimums not maximums ‘do not constitute any form of blank cheque’.
The residential amenity of Pottery Bank Court was the focus of discussion for Tuesday afternoon, while today (Wednesday, June 5) is to hear witnesses on housing and planning policy for both the appellants and the council, and on landscape for the appellants.
The plan for the third day (Thursday, June 6) is to discuss the flooding issues as well as planning conditions and the section 106 legal agreement in the event that the refusal is overturned and the plans given the go-ahead.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service