Developers hoping to build 400 homes in a Northumberland market town have launched a blistering attack on council bosses as an inquiry into their plans got underway.
Tees Valley Housing and Barratt David Wilson Homes accused Northumberland County Council of failing in its duty to provide homes at Morpeth, resulting in “pathetically inadequate” delivery of just, on average, 14 per year.
The developers also accused the authority of a “bewildering and inconsistent” approach in opposing their plans while not objecting to two other major housing proposals in the town.
The partners are seeking to build 396 homes on land between Morpeth and Hepscott, east of Stobhill roundabout.
Objections to their original planning application to the county council came in from 522 residents, alongside a petition of 445 signatures from the Morpeth Action Group, which itself objected.
Morpeth Town and Hepscott Parish Councils also objected along with highways officers.
Objections were also received from the South Morpeth Coalition, Morpeth Civic Society, Persimmon Homes, the ward member for Morpeth Stobhill, and the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Preparation Group.
The development partners appealed to the planning inspectorate on the grounds of non-determination, with the county council having failed to make a decision within a 13-week target.
This triggered a public inquiry at which the authority subsequently agreed to oppose the partners’ scheme.
At the opening session of the inquiry at Morpeth Town Hall, attended by scores of residents, the developers laid into the authority.
Its barrister Sasha White explained how the council is required by the government to have a five year supply of housing.
And yet he said: “The local planning authority cannot currently comply with that requirement. Indeed the current supply of housing is under two years, a woeful undersupply which amounts to a compelling need for further housing.”
He added: “There is an urgent and critical need for further housing in Morpeth. Over the past 14 years delivery of new housing has been completely inadequate and pathetically inadequate.
“For the fourth biggest settlement in Northumberland to have an average completion rate of 14 new houses per annum is a terrible indictment of the planning system and its ability to deliver new housing in a settlement of nearly 1,500 people.”
Mr White also criticised the council over its actions in opposing his clients’ scheme, yet choosing not to defend at appeal its decisions to refuse two applications for up to 200 homes at Loansdean, both since allowed, and approving plans for 255 homes at Northgate.
He called its approach “bewildering and inconsistent” and claimed a “completely different approach” had been taken at the other sites.
Mr White added: “On any rational and reasonable basis an impartial observer would be staggered by the unfairness of the approach to three very comparative housing sites on the edge of Morpeth.
“In the case of two they sail serenely to permission without objection and yet in this case every possible hurdle is placed in the way of consent.”
Later in the session, the county council cited a number of “adverse impacts” of the scheme which barrister Simon Pickles said would “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.”
The Morpeth and Hepscott Together group also gave its opening with Coun Joan Tebbutt saying the proposal is “not sustainable and has the potential to cause significant harm.”