Years of work would be ‘undermined’ by a sale

YEARS of hard work to develop community-led planning policy will be undermined if County Hall is sold, it has been warned.

The alarm has been sounded by Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group Chairman Ken Brown over fears that the move would go directly against plans being made by the community.

The Neighbourhood Plan is currently being drawn up through community workshops, project groups and public consultation to set out a clear strategy for the future development of Morpeth and surrounding parishes over the next 20 years.

There has already been strong support for the proposal that major housing development should be concentrated in the north of the town, rather than south of the River Wansbeck.

Meanwhile, consultation has only just finished on Northumberland County Council’s Core Strategy, which will form the basis of countywide planning policy. In a letter to Northumberland County Council Business Chairman Scott Dickinson, Coun Brown said: “If significant thought has been put into the sale of County Hall, as Chairman of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group I would like to understand what thought has been put into the impact it will have on both the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan and Northumberland County Council’s Core Strategy.

“Consultation closed last week on the Core Strategy and no reference was made to it in that consultation. The implications for both strategies is colossal, yet no discussions have been had with the Neighbourhood Plan team. At the very least, years of hard work by officers, councillors and hundreds of people, residents and organisations of the communities of Morpeth, Pegswood, Hebron, Hepscott and Mitford will be undermined by a decision to sell County Hall.”

Coun Brown also warned that any delays in forming the policy documents could lead to further problems.

“Any delays in the adoption of both the Core Strategy and the Neighbourhood Plan will prolong the ‘planning vacuum’ that exists,” he said.

“Morpeth is already feeling vulnerable because of planning applications for housing developments that threaten the essence of the Neighbourhood Plan. What will be inevitable delays in the adoption of the two strategies as a result of Northumberland County Council’s proposals potentially opens the door to approval of inappropriate applications.”

Coun Brown has urged the county council to engage with the community on the issue.