DEVELOPMENT: Concerns must be highlighted

editorial image

Morpeth North Residents’ Action Group (MNRAG) was disappointed to see the Morpeth Herald lending credibility to the number of new jobs the Trunk Road Service Area (TRSA) and associated development planned for land west of Lancaster Park will supposedly bring to the area, (Morpeth Herald, October 4).

Your headline cites 180 jobs, which is the number predicted in the reserved matters application for this development.

However, the jobs forecast has actually fallen by 170 from the number promised by the developers in their original application. That application promised 350 jobs. Approval for the development was predicated on the economic benefit these 350 jobs would bring.

In both cases, no evidence has been submitted to support these figures.

The likelihood of the Innovation Centre providing 129 jobs is remote, given its unsuitable location and division into seven units. The size of building proposed means it is unlikely to yield even the 40 jobs the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) guide would have suggested for R&D jobs.

In addition, Northumberland County Council’s own commercial property study reported comfortable equilibrium in the market in Morpeth and major oversupply in neighbouring Ashington and south-east Northumberland in general.

When the initial planning application was made, MNRAG undertook a detailed appraisal of the job creation prospects claimed. The task was facilitated by published information, including Northumberland Tourism’s serviced accommodation occupancy data and the county council’s own commissioned reports on business premises and employment land in the county.

We were keen to discuss our findings with planners. They declined, preferring instead to accept verbatim the applicant’s unevidenced claims and, it seems, without reference to the above-mentioned sources, which were freely available. MNRAG’S critique was not examined in the planner’s report.

A new TRSA will not grow the market it serves. Its existence will not increase traffic on the A1 in Northumberland. Any business it does will be at the expense of existing similar activity.

In this case, the ‘displacement’ effect (as it is known in economic development terms) would doubtless be keenly felt by the Shell garage and associated services less than half-a-mile away. The fast food and drink outlets would likewise displace existing similar activity in and around Morpeth.

Finally, there is the hotel. Northumberland Tourism’s occupancy data for 2011 (the latest available to us at the time) demonstrated that the county’s serviced accommodation market was among the weakest in England. 

Annual average occupancy rates for hotels was only 68 per cent, dipping as low as 44 per cent in winter months. Comparable figures for B&Bs were 46 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

With so much spare capacity in the local market, no wonder the hotel element of the development has been scaled down from 60 to 40 beds and the pub has gone.

There can be no doubt that any success enjoyed by the proposed hotel could only be at the expense of existing businesses. Jobs in the new business would be balanced by losses elsewhere.

MNRAG is not saying new businesses should not be able to enter markets and compete, whatever the market conditions. We do, however, object to this application’s jobs data being used to excuse gross transgressions of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan before the ink was dry.

We believe the Morpeth Herald report was heavily biased toward jobs the proposed development could bring, but failed to highlight the fact that this large TRSA complex is to be built in close proximity to an established residential estate, with new housing proposed on the same site.

Both the established and new residents of these properties will be subjected to 24-hour light pollution, noise pollution and air pollution from the HGV lorry park, the HGV fuel area, the petrol station, three drive-through food outlets and a 40-bed hotel. All will be open 24 hours, seven days a week.

A development such as this should not be built so close to residential properties.

During the planning application process, attempts were made to move the status of Local Enterprise Zone from the land at Fairmoor to the ‘safeguarded and green belt land’, as designated in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan, west of Lancaster Park.

This added weight to approval for the development, but was never enacted as Local Enterprise Zone status is allocated by the Government, not the local authority.

Prime agricultural land will be lost when this development is built (‘best and most versatile’ as designated by Natural England); residents’ health and safety will be put at risk from noxious fumes, 24-hour powerful lighting, noise levels above the World Health Organisation recommendations; protected species, such as the white-clawed crayfish and bats, will be threatened as their habitats are degraded; other mammals and birds will also suffer.

These aspects of the proposed development need to be given publicity. It is astounding that planners and councillors were comfortable in approving a development that sites a 24-hour TRSA and HGV fuel station in close proximity to two housing developments.

Duncan Urquhart

Secretary, MNRAG