Northumberland County Council pulls out of Morpeth housing inquiry

Northumberland County Council has revealed it will not be defending its refusal of a bid for homes at Morpeth at a forthcoming public inquiry

Simon Hobson The Loansdean area in Morpeth where Bellway want to build homes
The Loansdean area in Morpeth where Bellway want to build homes

Townsfolk will have to take on a building giant for the second time after council bosses again chose not to defend their refusal of controversial housing plans.

Northumberland County Council has confirmed it will not be standing by its decision to throw out plans from builders Bellway for a site at Morpeth at a public inquiry next month.

The authority had similarly previously chosen not to defend its refusal of Bellway’s first set of plans, which are also to be examined at the same hearing.

Objectors to both schemes last night said they were disappointed but not surprised by the council’s decision, but vowed to fight both plans regardless.

The company’s original application – for 200 houses and bungalows together with commercial and retail units at the green field Loansdean site – was rejected by county councillors in February 2012 after it sparked more than 200 objections and a 468-name petition.

An appeal to the planning in­­spectorate was submitted, and the county chose not to defend its refusal.

The challenge was nevertheless rejected that August but Bellway then launched a High Court challenge, which led to the decision being quashed last May.

That meant a new inquiry would have to be held, conducted by a different inspector.

Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland
Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland
 

At the same time Bellway submitted a revised application for planning permission which proposed 186 houses and increased the number of properties which would be available at affordable rent levels. It also minimised the loss of trees.

There were more than 220 letters of objection to the scheme, including Morpeth Civic Society, Ponteland Civic Society, alongside others from Morpeth Town Council and Hepscott Flood Action Group.

Council officers recommended the application be given approval. But at a later meeting, members voted to refuse.

Bellway submitted an appeal against the refusal of the second application and requested the planning inspectorate hear it at the same inquiry as the first, which was agreed.

The county council has now said it will not be defending the latest refusal, with the North area planning committee having reviewed the reasons behind the decision in light of new information and concluded that two of the three could not be upheld.

Council leader Grant Davey said: “The council has a duty to review decisions on major dev­elopments to ensure that they can be properly defended under planning law, before getting involved in costly public inquiries.”

Last night, David Holden of the South Morpeth Coalition said: “We are disappointed in the council’s decision but we are not surprised given that they did not defend the first appeal.”

He said the coalition would still be fighting both appeals. The inquiry begins on March 18 and is due to last six days.

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