Retirement complex on key site gets green light

Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.
Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

A controversial retirement living complex on a landmark site in the heart of historic Morpeth has been given the go-ahead, despite opposition.

McCarthy and Stone’s bid for 55 apartments on the former Davidsons of Morpeth site, next to the grade II*-listed Telford Bridge, was approved by 12 votes to two at Tuesday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee.

One of those who voted against, Morpeth councillor Andrew Tebbutt said he was ‘bitterly disappointed’, while the other, Coun Trevor Thorne, said: “This current building, with more of a factory or prison look, will not fit in.”

Objectors, including the town council and Historic England, raised major concerns about the design and size of the proposed block on such a prominent site, which is immediately adjacent to the conservation area and surrounded by heritage assets such as the bridge, St George’s church and the courthouse.

However, there is an extant planning permission for a similar development and the county council’s planning and conservation officers both feel that the new design is an improvement on the scheme which has already been approved.

Conservation officer Annette Reeves said: “What we have to remember is there’s an extant scheme. We have been working very hard to get the best possible design solution for this site. It doesn’t compete with the other significant heritage assets in the vicinity.”

Coun Thorne said: “I remember going on a tour of Morpeth and everyone was very excited to lose the garage and have a second chance to develop this site.

“I think the town council has got it exactly right; this should be turned down on grounds of height, massing and design.”

But Coun Gordon Castle said: “The problem we have got is that there’s an extant planning permission.

“We have another one in front of us which we are obliged to consider, but it’s not as if we have a blank piece of paper and this design improves on it slightly.”

Coun Tebbutt said: “I’m very conscious that there’s already an extant permission and I accept that this is better.

“I’m bitterly disappointed that in all the discussions that have been held with McCarthy and Stone, they haven’t listened to the issues about design.

“They could have had a really landmark development, but they haven’t.”

Couns Dougie Watkin and Richard Dodd were supportive, pointing out the need for homes for the county’s ageing population. The latter added: “I think this is a good scheme, let’s get on with it.”

Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Alison Byard spoke against the bid, while an agent for the developer and resident Angela Rutter spoke in favour.

A scheme for 60 apartments on the site received planning permission in 2007. Lend Lease took on the land and although it secured an extension to the time limit, it did not proceed, citing the economic downturn.