The consultation period for the draft version of the full Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan (MNP) has reached the half-way point.
Residents have until Wednesday, February 25, to put forward their views on the document that will influence future development and help to enhance and protect Morpeth’s role as a market town.
It also covers the neighbouring parishes of Hebron, Hepscott, Mitford and Pegswood.
Following the Issues and Options consultation in autumn 2013, most of the original options have been taken forward as either Planning Policies (PP) or Community Actions (CA) – a few are not being progressed at the current time.
Whilst community actions are important, in legal terms only the planning policies of the neighbourhood plan have ‘statutory weight’.
Information about the document is available in the Butter Market of Morpeth Town Hall and an exhibition of plan data got under way in Morpeth Library this week, it will run until February 13.
The full document is available online at www. themorpethneighbourhoodplan.org.uk
The following are some of the policies and actions that have been put forward for five of the plan’s topics.
Getting Around (Transport)
Increasing town centre traffic congestion will be addressed in order to improve the viability and local environment of the primary retail area. Measures include increasing road space available, with cycling and pedestrian priority within the retail areas, reducing conflicting vehicle turning movements at Telford Bridge and improving traffic flow.
The MNP encourages, following the opening of the Morpeth Northern Bypass, all measures to route through traffic away from Morpeth town centre and enhance pedestrian routes, for example in Bridge Street, Newgate Street and the Market Place.
It is desirable to retain the possibility of a link road between Stobhill and Loansdean and a four-way junction to the A1 either at Clifton or on the Whalton Road. It is recognised that the A1 junction at Clifton is outside the Plan area, but the direct significance of this possibility to Morpeth merits its inclusion in the MNP.
Given potential housing developments in the north and to improve traffic flows following completion of the Morpeth Northern Bypass, there is also a compelling case for a road link from King Edward VI School to the new bypass.
Sports, Arts, Leisure and Well-being
There is strong public support for an improved, extended or completely new sports and leisure facility and Northumberland County Council has recently proposed major investment for the Riverside Leisure Centre in Morpeth.
Relocation could be considered, but if so, a town centre location with access to long-term car parking is considered preferable. If the facilities are relocated, the best alternative use for the existing site should be found that makes a strong financial contribution to the new sports and leisure facilities.
The MNP includes a policy and an action covering the establishment and location of an Arts, Performance and Heritage Centre. This would need to be in an easily accessible town centre location and fully integrated into the visitor economy shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants, with easy access from and to public transport facilities and town centre parking.
The Willows and Library riverside area has been identified as a good site, but the existing library facilities would need to be incorporated.
The commercial viability of such a centre must be carefully evaluated, but it would be a valuable addition to our town infrastructure and cultural well-being, a welcome attraction for visitors and a major boost to the town’s evening economy.
A Landscape Corridors PP will protect the green and open approaches that add to the place-defining characteristic setting of Morpeth and the surrounding villages.
Development will be screened and the corridors will enhance the green and leafy character of built up areas and support wildlife.
The Wildlife Corridors PP will protect the open character of the river, burns and other watercourses and provide connectivity between the open countryside around the urban area and the wildlife habitats within the built up areas.
In addition, the Local Green Spaces and Protected Open Spaces policies will protect spaces such as landscaped areas, small patches of woodland, formal sports pitches, allotments and open grassed areas, which all contribute to the green infrastructure of the area and are locally cherished.
There are development opportunities for a mix of retail, commercial, community and residential uses on a range of sites in and adjacent to the town centre, and appropriate development of these sites will strengthen Morpeth’s role as a successful market town and tourism hub.
In order to contribute to the county council’s strategy for growth and to ensure that it develops as a sustainable settlement, Morpeth needs a high quality portfolio of employment sites and business accommodation.
In the light of the loss of the Fairmoor employment site, it is vital that the County Hall site remains a strategic employment location.
It could be refurbished or redeveloped as a business park, or alternatively used as a hotel and conference centre.
Previous county council indications were 1,700 new houses in the MNP area focused on Morpeth (1,500) and Pegswood (200) and the Issues and Options consultation responses strongly supported this figure not being exceeded.
However, for its current Core Strategy consultation, December 2014, the council has increased the target by 400 to 2,100.
But this figure does not take emerging DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) household projections into account.
The MNP has been prepared on the basis of providing for 1,700 new houses and strong representations will be made for the county council to revise its amended target downwards.
The Strategic Environmental Assessment considers a sustainable urban extension around the St George’s Hospital site is the preferred development scenario.
This is a strategic location for additional residential development in the medium to long term, including future growth beyond the plan period.