The announcement that the referendum on Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan is to go ahead next month is great news for the people of Morpeth, Pegswood, Hepscott, Mitford and Hebron.
The hard work put in by the town and parish councillors and by committed local volunteers in preparing the Plan is on the point of paying off.
It should be stressed that this is a genuine community plan. It was prepared locally, by locals, and amended in accordance with contributions by the residents and businesses following several consultations. It is our Plan. It is not one imposed on us.
Why was the Plan needed? It was because housing developers were queuing up to build over land where the residents did not want this to take place. Such unregulated development could destroy the character of Morpeth and the parishes forever.
Local residents love their town and villages and are very aware of the factors which make them so attractive. They demonstrated in the consultation processes that they were also aware of the problems of the area and the need to face these in the years to come.
These problems are threefold.
Firstly, the need to accommodate in an acceptable way the increase in housing stock, which will result from the requirement imposed by the Government to provide an ongoing supply of building land. Secondly, to ensure that systems like traffic, education, shopping, employment opportunities and so forth are adequate for the likely increase in population. Thirdly, to ensure that the essential character which makes the area such a delight is preserved and enhanced in the face of these challenges.
The Plan tackles these issues full on. The details of how this should be done is available on both Northumberland County Council’s and the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan websites, which also describe how residents and others were consulted and how the Plan meets in full all legal and governmental requirements.
I urge all readers to read the Plan (it’s not too heavy), because it is their Plan and it will shape the future of Morpeth and the parishes for a generation or more.
Turnout for polls of all sorts can be low. I therefore also urge readers to make sure they are registered to vote, by postal or proxy ballot if necessary, so that as big a turnout on the day as possible can be achieved. In many ways, this ballot is more significant for residents than any of the others which come along as part of the electoral cycle because the implications locally are immediate and stark.
The developers are queuing up to march into the open countryside. A vote against the Plan is not a vote against any more housing. It would be a vote for a planning free-for-all.
Let’s seize the day and be in control of our future.
Volunteer, Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Preparation Group