Store decision must consider flooding fears

FLOODING fears must be addressed if plans for a Morpeth supermarket are to be approved, councillors have said.

A detailed application by Dransfield Properties to develop a food store, access and car parking off Dark Lane could be decided by Northumberland County Council within weeks following the approval of outline plans last year.

But members of Morpeth Town Council say that while they are not opposed to the development in principle, it must not go ahead if there is any chance it will increase flood risk.

Councillors said they cannot judge the technical arguments put forward by the developer that the scheme will lessen the risk so they are relying on the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water for expert analysis.

Coun David Parker said: “The trouble is that it is all very complex.

“The one thing that is troubling me greatly is not about the evacuation procedures, but it is about the state of surface water and sewerage in that whole area. Undoubtedly, there is local flooding there from time to time.

“If there are already problems of surface water management and we put this supermarket in, the Morpeth Flood Action Group is of the mind that this will become worse.

“I don’t know that it will or not, but if there is any suggestion of that then it has to be addressed. I’m not saying there is a potential problem, but there could be. There are some questions that have to be answered.”

He added: “We need to know what the Environment Agency is saying, not just to satisfy ourselves, but also the people of Morpeth, particularly those in the Low Stanners area.

“Some of them are still quite worried. I don’t think most of them are against the principle of the application, but they are very concerned that these matters are addressed.”

Coun Nic Best agreed.

“Although the developer says that the Environment Agency has approved and supported the flood scheme, I haven’t seen anywhere any direct decision from the Environment Agency saying this is ok,” he said.

“We have to abide by whatever the Environment Agency says as it is the statutory body.”

Retail Property Director for Dransfield Properties Andrew Malley said after the meeting: “Over the last two years, we have been in very detailed consultation with the Environment Agency about our plans for the Low Stanners site and the proposals which are now before the local authority have evolved throughout that process.

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“As members of the town council pointed out at their meeting, the Environment Agency is the statutory consultee in this specific area and we will of course be working with it to ensure that any recommendations it makes are incorporated into the overall development.”

The council’s Planning and Transport Committee also said that any community benefit from the build should go towards the town’s flood alleviation scheme.

Coun Parker said: “We are facing potentially trying to find £10m in the next year or two otherwise the flood alleviation scheme will not go ahead.

“Flooding is a big issue for the people of this town, not just because of what happened in 2008, but because of the potential for other flood events in the future.

“If we don’t get the flood alleviation scheme then the implications in relation to insurance are diabolical. If there was another flood, insurance would be impossible for a large part of the town and that would mean this town was finished, including this store. It wouldn’t be a viable town.

“I don’t see how we as a town council can let this application go by without raising this issue.”

Coun Best told members that in Keswick supermarket giant Tesco had provided the bulk of the community share of the flood work costs.

The council will also ask Dransfield to consider apprenticeship schemes or contributions to street furniture and public toilets.

Other conditions outlined by the committee included restrictions so that the shop can only sell items associated with a small grocery store, limited times for arrival and departure of delivery vehicles, limited opening hours, grey roof tiles to match the townscape, signage to suit the area’s character and sympathetic landscaping.

Coun Best called for conditions to avoid disturbing nesting birds or the ecology of the riverbank during construction and for the road bridge across the Cotting Burn to be designed so that sunlight can get through to the area below.

Members also said an in-store cafe or restaurant should not be permitted.

Coun Best said: “The key thing about the supermarket being on that site was that it was supposed to encourage people to make linked trips to Morpeth town centre. If there is a restaurant or cafe there, rather than doing their shopping and going into the town centre for a coffee they will just stay in the supermarket.”

One of the main concerns was the potential for congestion, particularly around Staithes Lane at peak times, and councillors agreed with the developer that traffic lights should be installed at Telford Bridge, despite highways officers’ advice that it could lead to the ‘urbanisation’ of Morpeth.

They also called on the county council to introduce residents’ permit parking for surrounding streets.

And they said that both car parks at the site should be under the control of the county council to ensure adequate and fair controls. They also argued that splitting ownership with the developer could cause confusion if evacuation was necessary.

They added that conditions of the outline application should be carried over.

The comments will now be passed to Northumberland County Council, which is expected to consider the application next month.