PLAN: Changes are a bombshell

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As readers of this newspaper know, the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan (MNP) was finally made by the county council on May 10, 2016.

There was much relief in the knowledge that local people had been able to make their views clear on the future development of their town.

Hardly had the ink dried when the cabinet of the county council announced proposals to make major modifications to the emerging Core Strategy, which, if unopposed, will effectively scupper the MNP.

This bombshell astounded not only the members of the public at the meeting, but also several of the councillors. So, how did this happen?

Until the Core Strategy is completed, estimated to be in the summer of 2017, the MNP is the definitive planning policy.

The only explanation given by the cabinet was that land safeguarded for employment purposes was suddenly and unaccountably not available. However, another parcel of land to the west of Lancaster Park was now considered to be entirely suitable, having not only a willing landowner, but also having agreed access to the new relief road.

In the absence of further detail, supposition and rumour has been rife. A number of questions have been left unanswered.

Northumberland County Council must have known of this situation before making the MNP, so why did it do so?

Who owns the land which has suddenly become unavailable?

Can it be legal/possible to effectively overturn aspects of the MNP to apparently suit one developer?

Why does the county council appear to be favouring one developer in this matter whose several applications for this area of land are still unresolved?

The people of Morpeth may never receive acceptable answers to these questions, but to disregard this apparent attack on democracy could have untold repercussions for the town.

We are now in a consultation period regarding the Core Strategy and have until July 27 to make our views clear. There is the opportunity to make group representations, both online and as hard copies, providing that details of individuals are included, ie, names, addresses, email, phone numbers and signatures.

These group representations and individual ones will have equal weight.

We have fought for our Neighbourhood Plan, but the fight seems to be far from over.

However, with effort and determination we must respond to the challenge laid before us in the long-term interests of both the town itself and its residents.

Penny Oxley