Town councillors have lashed out at the “woefully inexplicable delay” which led to a controversial housing development in Morpeth.
Officials at Northumberland County Council were accused of creating a “planning vacuum” through their failure to have planning guidance in place - with town councillors at Morpeth believing this to be behind a government to allowed hundreds of new homes to be built there.
The Morpeth councillors have also questioned why they should bother pursuing localised planning guidance for the town on the back of the decision.
County council bosses have however insisted the lack of housing delivered in the town is to blame.
Communities and local government minister Eric Pickles this week chose to give the go-ahead to plans for 396 homes on the outskirts of Morpeth, despite massive opposition in the town.
There were 522 objections from residents, a petition signed by 450 people and objections from county councillor for the Morpeth Stobhill ward, the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Preparation group, Morpeth Action Group, South Morpeth Coalition, Morpeth Civic Society, Morpeth Town Council and Hepscott Parish Council.
On the back of the decision, the town council has released a statement voicing its dismay and blaming the 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 - which is involved in preparation of more localised planning guidance which is being drawn up at community level - claims this has created a “planning vacuum” which developers have taken “advantage” of and made “piecemeal” applications for “inappropriate” sites.
The statement, from chair of the town council’s planning and transport committee Joan Tebbutt, said: “Morpeth Town Council, together with the local community, are extremely disappointed by the secretary of state’s decision to allow 396 homes to be built south of Stobhill.
“The decision was based on what is perceived to be an inadequate supply of new homes within a five year period, despite all the new homes pending completion.
“The main factor however was the county council’s woefully inexplicable delay in producing a new local plan for Northumberland as a whole.
“This further blow to community aspirations for our town has already caused some, to question whether there is any point in pursuing the emerging neighbourhood plan.
“The Stobhill decision makes ‘the point’ abundantly clear.
“Without a Northumberland local plan and a neighbourhood plan for the Morpeth area, developers can and will continue to take advantage of the ‘planning vacuum’ and continue to make piecemeal applications to build in inappropriate areas around Morpeth.”
Yet Karen Ledger, head of planning and housing services at the county council, said: “The council is equally disappointed in the secretary of state’s decision to allow the Stobhill development to go ahead.
“The main issue affecting Morpeth in terms of housing development is the significant shortage in the five year supply of housing in the area.
“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.
“Significant progress has been made on the emerging core strategy over the last two years, with consultation underway currently on a full draft plan and a pre-submission draft of the plan due in 2015.
“The council will continue to work closely with the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Group to ensure that the two plans are aligned to produce a sustainable and deliverable planning framework for Morpeth.”