Residents seek field protection

Dog walkers are staking an early claim to a well-loved green space to try to spare it from development.

Fears are mounting about the status of a field behind County Hall in Morpeth amid plans to sell off the county council headquarters.

Organiser Ken Kirkbride (centre) and other Morpeth residents are fighting to keep the fields behind County Hall preserved as a natural environment.'REF 0302151853

Organiser Ken Kirkbride (centre) and other Morpeth residents are fighting to keep the fields behind County Hall preserved as a natural environment.'REF 0302151853

The authority said only last year the land was deemed unsuitable for development.

But no decisions about its future have been taken and with developers eyeing up land throughout the town, coupled with previous suggestions that the council site could be sold for housing, residents say it is more important than ever that the open space is safeguarded.

Now they are trying to secure protected status for the land through the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan process.

Southgate Wood resident and former town councillor Ken Kirkbride, who is leading the campaign, said: “This is a popular leisure area, well used by residents and dog walkers.

“We have heard housing being discussed for the County Hall site, while the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan suggests it should be classed as an employment area. Really, we would like this field excluded from any development plans as protected green space.

“It is a lovely little place, full of wildlife. It has been used by residents continually for 20-odd years and we want to keep it as it is.

“With all the development that is going ahead green spaces are going to be of paramount importance around Morpeth. This area should be kept natural, rather than being used for any building purposes whatsoever.”

Fellow resident Julie Holden agreed.

“We are concerned because in the consultation document of the Neighbourhood Plan is seemed as thought this field had been forgotten. It didn’t appear on the map,” she said.

“People are responding to the Neighbourhood Plan consultation. They want this field to be protected.”

Dog owner Sandra Bayliss said: “I moved up here about 18 months ago and the amount of friends I have made just by going to that field is unbelievable. It is like a meeting place up there.

“I live in The Chip and there is going to be development next to me so it is a massive concern that the field will also be lost. I would love to see some protection put on it. If everywhere else is being built on it is even more important to keep it.”

Stobhill Grange resident Bryan Panter added: “Everyone is worried about what will happen to the field if County Hall is sold. I have been walking the dogs there for years, but we don’t know what is going to happen to it.

“It would be a shame to lose this nice little area.”

Morpeth town councillor and Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group Chairman Joan Tebbutt urged residents to raise their concerns through the Plan consultation.

She said: “I am aware of the concerns about the field. People need to respond to the Neighbourhood Plan consultation to say that they want that land designated as green space. I certainly have.

“I would like to see the field retained as a sports pitch, hopefully with some changing rooms.

“We need people to write in and say please make this local green space. The Plan has the power to do that.”

A consultants’ report prepared for Northumberland County Council on the County Hall site excludes Southgate Field and 1.06 hectares at the south east of the plot from development potential, along with a wooded area and highway reserve on the northern edge of the site.

A council spokesman said: “The Strategic Options Review prepared for the council last year highlights an area at the south east of the County Hall site, which includes a pond, as not being suitable for development.

“However, this is a high-level plan and there will inevitably be further consultation on the detail in the future stages of this project. At this stage no decisions have been taken.”