Fears over Morpeth planning vacuum resurface

Claims of a planning vacuum at Morpeth have again been made with another 35 homes set to be approved

Parish Councillor Phil Ashmore outside Ideal Caravans in Clifton, near Morpeth
Parish Councillor Phil Ashmore outside Ideal Caravans in Clifton, near Morpeth

Fears have again been voiced over the lack of planning protection for an ancient Northumberland market town after more than 30 new homes were recommend for approval.

The Journal recently reported on the concerns of Morpeth Town Council over the lack of planning guidance for the town, which it blamed for the government’s decision to approve almost 400 homes, on the back of hundreds more having been allowed.

Hepscott Parish Council has now voiced similar concerns after a further 35 homes were recommended for approval. The decision comes despite opponents pointing out the proposed site has not been identified for development and is outside the town’s settlement boundary, and that the properties would be in a green buffer zone.

Morpeth Town Council spoke out in December after communities and local government minister Eric Pickles chose to give the go-ahead to plans for 396 homes on the outskirts of the town at Stobhill, despite massive opposition.

It blamed Northumberland County Council over the fact parts of its local plan - including the core strategy which will set out planning guidance for Northumberland up until 2031 - are still to be finalised.

The town council claimed this has created a “planning vacuum” which developers have taken “advantage” of and made “piecemeal” applications for “inappropriate” sites.

Parish Councillor Phil Ashmore outside Ideal Caravans in Clifton, near Morpeth
Parish Councillor Phil Ashmore outside Ideal Caravans in Clifton, near Morpeth

Members also questioned why they should bother pursuing localised planning guidance for the town on the back of the decision.

Now, county councillors have been recommended to approve an application for a further 35 homes at the Clifton Caravan Centre in the town.

That is despite objections from the town council and parish councils for Hepscott and Stannington, Morpeth Civic Society and six residents.

Opposition has been voiced on the basis that the site is not identified for development in the emerging greenbelt around the town, is outside of the Morpeth settlement boundary - with no services or facilities, and that the scheme would be an incursion into the green buffer between Morpeth and Clifton.

There are also concerns over increase in traffic and flood risk.

Phil Ashmore, chairman of the Hepscott council, said the application added to the feeling of a free for all for developers at Morpeth, due to the lack of planning guidance.

He said: “We have just had two planning applications on the headwaters (of the Hepscott Burn) - Loansdean and Stobhill - they have just added in the space of less than six months some 600 houses to South Morpeth.

“You are bound to be concerned when something else goes up, it is so inconsistent.

“It is so random, it is not planning at all.

“It is just who puts their application in first.

“That is what happens when you have a planning vacuum with a poor housing supply.”

Nathan Darby, agent for the Clifton scheme, did not provide a comment.

The county council’s North area planning committee was due to determine the application at its meeting on Thursday night but instead arranged a site visit.

In December, the authority claimed there was a “significant shortage in the five year supply of housing in the area”.

It said at the time: “This is primarily due to the failure to deliver sufficient homes in Morpeth over a significant period of time due to the economic recession but also to the nature of the policies of the former Castle Morpeth Borough Council which sought to focus the majority of housing development elsewhere, rather than in Morpeth.”


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