Minister puts County Hall plans on hold
Added by Jenny Wilkinson on Sun 19th Mar 2017.

Controversial plans for a retail park, 200 houses and school on the County Hall site in Morpeth have been thrown into doubt following central government intervention.  Gavin Barwell MP, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning has informed Northumberland County Council that they cannot grant planning permission without authorisation.  A 'holding direction' was sent to the council on the 7th March, and on the same day that the plans were taken to the Council's Strategic Planning Committee.  It could have refused permission but instead was 'minded' to approve the applications with members voting  9-5 in  favour in each case.  These decisions are now on hold whilst central government examines the plans.  

The intervention has been welcomed by groups opposing the plans including the South Morpeth Coalition residents' group and the Morpeth Chamber of Trade.  David Holden of the residents' group said, “This is hopefully the first step towards the plans being called in by the Secretary of State and for the decision making powers to be removed from the Council.  The resolutions passed at the planning committee made a mockery of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan which was endorsed by nearly 4,000 residents last year with a 93.4% majority. Retail and housing are not suitable uses for this site which is clear in the plan."  

Jacky Beesley, Chair of Morpeth Chamber of Trade reacted by saying, "I am heartened that Gavin Barwell has taken this action.  These proposals were unpopular with businesses and residents from the outset and I am still extremely disappointed that they were publicly backed by the Council Leader, Grant Davey, when there were more than 1,700 objections and only 15 letters of support. An edge of town retail park and a small market town do not mix and I hope this view is shared by central government. The principle of a new school is supported but the suggested location opposite the entrance to the proposed retail park and fast food drive thru should be looked at again.”

Morpeth residents and businesses joined forces in February and marched to County Hall from the town's historic market place with more than 1,000 people protesting against the plans.    


 

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 master plan 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 master plan 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 / Loansdean 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.