Over 1,600 Objections but Council Ploughs on!
Added by Jenny Wilkinson on Wed 1st Mar 2017.
Last updated on Wed 1st Mar 2017.

Please see below a joint news release from the Morpeth & District Chamber of Trade and South Morpeth Coalition:-

Northumberland County Council planners have recommended that plans for the County Hall site in Morpeth should be approved despite residents and businesses submitting 1,617 letters of objection.  The plans, which include an edge of town retail park and 200 houses, are hugely controversial with more than 1,000 residents taking part in a protest march last Friday. The Council own the land and the Council’s planning committee will meet next Tuesday to determine the plans.  Council Leader, Grant Davey, has publicly backed the plans which have 14 letters of support.  This includes 1 letter of support for the housing. 

The recommendations have incensed opposition groups who have called into the question the integrity of the process.

David Holden, Chair of the South Morpeth Coalition residents group said, "These recommendations are a disgrace and are an insult to the thousands of Morpeth residents who voted to endorse the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan last year.  The plan makes clear the uses for the site which include business, hotels, health and leisure. Retail and housing get no mention whatsoever.  If the recommendations are agreed, the plan will have been ignored by the Council on four occasions in only a few months.  The planning committee should reflect on this and carefully consider whether it is prepared to disregard the views of major employers, the independent traders which make Morpeth special and so many residents. 

Committee members also need to decide if a fast food drive thru directly opposite a school is acceptable.  Both Public Health England and the Parliamentary Health Select Committee are alarmed by the obesity epidemic in children and have recently highlighted the urgent need to radically improve the current obesogenic environment.   Approving these plans would do the exact opposite and would be contrary to the concerns of national bodies with responsibility for public health.”  

Supermarket giant Morrisons is the latest town centre retailer to object and has called into question the evidence provided by the Council's retail advisors.  WYG has advised the Council that the two main town centre stores (Morrisons and Lidl) would continue to trade successfully subsequent to the development of the retail park which includes a supermarket. However, in a letter of objection to the Council, Peacock and Smith on behalf of Morrisons state, "This assessment is based on WYG's assumption that Morrisons is trading well in excess of its benchmark turnover.  Morrisons has confirmed that the Morpeth store only trades at around benchmark turnover and a significant reduction in turnover would bring into question the viability of current operations at the store." 

Peacock and Smith also quantify the impact on other retailers with almost 125,000 fewer town centre visits per year as a result of Morrisons losing trade to the edge of town supermarket.  

Jacky Beesley, Chair of Morpeth Chamber of Trade reacted by saying, "Approval of these plans will sound the death knell for Morpeth town centre.  Morrisons is the town centre's major employer and to go ahead with a scheme that would risk more than 200 jobs is madness.  Dransfield Properties who own Sanderson Arcade has also objected and Chamber members are telling me that they fear for the future of their businesses. 

If the Council intends to let Morpeth go the same way as other towns in the area that are fighting against decline, then this development should be allowed. If instead there is a continued determination, as there should be, to ensure that Morpeth stands out with a healthy and attractive town centre, then this proposal should be opposed.  I urge the planning committee to listen."

David Holden has also formally complained to the Council about how the plans have developed.  He said, "The whole process has been rushed and chaotic. The plans have been given undue priority to meet a timescale driven by the Council’s interest as landowner.  Information has been posted on the planning portal that has been confusing, misleading or incorrect. 

Morpeth residents have received countless letters which have been impossible to follow.  If the planning committee endorses the recommendations, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the views of Morpeth residents and businesses count for nothing, and neither does the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan."
Ends 

News release - issued on behalf of the Morpeth & District Chamber of Trade and the South Morpeth Coalition

Pictures are from the protest march on February 24th which was attended by more than 1,000 Morpeth residents

Overall letters of objection (1,617) to letters of support (14) in percentage terms are 99.1% / 0.9%

By scheme the breakdown as follows -

Retail - 871 / 8 (99.1% / 0.9%) 

Housing - 678 / 1 (99.8% / 0.2%)

School - 68 / 5 (93.2% / 6.8%) 

The principle of a new school is supported by the Chamber of Trade and South Morpeth Coalition but it's proposed location is the questioned with other potentially better sites available, including the retail park site. A masterplanning exercise as required by the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan would have informed the best location for the school.

Notes to Editors

The origins of the Morpeth & District Chamber of Trade can be traced back to the 1930’s.  The Chamber is a very active organisation and is involved in a variety of initiatives including Morpeth Fair Day and Northumbria in Bloom.  The Chamber has an important role in commenting on and influencing Town and County Council policy, as well as supporting a variety of local causes which help preserve the unique identity of our ancient market town.  The Chamber represents more than 60 Morpeth businesses.

The South Morpeth Coalition is a local residents' action group and is an informal, non-political association formed specifically to oppose unwanted development in south Morpeth.

The retail park has been proposed on Northumberland County Council owned land opposite the existing County Hall building.  The Council has actively encouraged retail applications from developers despite the fact that the community-led Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan does not allow retail use on this site.  Preston based Maple Grove  Developments Ltd has submitted a planning application for a supermarket, 9 retail units, a food based pub and a fast food drive thru, which will be opposite the site earmarked for a school.  The retail park will have more than 300 car parking spaces which is a similar number to the main car park for the town centre.  The main objections from a planning perspective are as below -

- The development is contrary to the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan which was endorsed in 2016 by 93% of Morpeth residents that voted in a referendum
- A masterplan for the site has not been produced which is a requirement of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan
- An out of centre retail development will seriously undermine the vitality, viability and the vibrancy of Morpeth Town Centre; there are alternative sites for retail available in the town centre
- The proposal will have a significant adverse impact on the character and appearance of a largely residential area
- No assessment has been made of the health impact of the proposed hot food takeaway / drive thru, which will be opposite the site proposed for a first school

The housing has been proposed on Northumberland County Council owned land including the existing County Hall building, car park and green space.  The Council has actively encouraged housing applications from developers despite the fact that the community-led Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan does not allow housing on this site.  The Home Group has submitted proposals for 200 houses. The main objections from a planning perspective are as below -

- The development is contrary to the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan which was endorsed in 2016 by 93% of Morpeth residents that voted in a referendum
- A masterplan for the site has not been produced which is a requirement of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan

- There is no need for more housing in Morpeth with planning permission in granted for 3,000 houses, which will increase the size of the town by 40%

- The route of the Stobhill / Lonsdean link road would be lost forever; such a route would reduce congestion at Mafeking roundabout and provide a better connection from the A1 to Coopies Lane industrial estate

- The application represents loss of green space that is protected by policy in the statutory Neighbourhood Plan. Green space is much valued for other uses and for general well-being, so its removal is not in the public interest

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