Independent Examination Report

The progress of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan (MNP) has taken a huge leap forward. The independent Examiner, Chris Collison, has recommended that, with some modifications to better align it with national planning policy guidance, it should go forward to a referendum.

The MNP defines settlement boundaries for Morpeth, Hepscott, Mitford, Hebron and Pegswood. It also addresses issues such as our valued heritage and environment and sets out policies to support the local economy, transport measures, leisure facilities and education provision. It is wide ranging, realistic yet aspirational, and, significantly, allows for sustainable growth and meets national planning policy requirements.

Bringing the MNP to fruition has been a major task led by Morpeth Town Council as the Qualifying Body, working in partnership with the surrounding Parish Councils of Hepscott, Mitford, Hebron and Pegswood and with significant contributions and involvement from members of the community.

Town Councillor Joan Tebbutt, Chair of the MNP Steering Group, says:

“The enormously complex and detailed work involved in preparing the Neighbourhood Plan has been much more demanding and daunting than any of us anticipated, since we were originally informed by government that neighbourhood planning was intended to be a “light touch “process.

“Residents of the Plan area are therefore hugely indebted to members of the Plan Preparation Group (PPG), who spent countless hours over many months drafting the plan, making amendments following two periods of public consultation and bringing the submitted documentation to a highly professional standard. The PPG was very ably led by Cllr Nic Best, and included Philip Ashmore, Ed Campbell, Simon Cox, Alan Jones, Peter Scott, Graeme Trotter, David Woodard and me. In addition we had significant support from our Planning Consultant Ian Campbell, and from County Council planning officers David English and David Rowlinson. I am immensely grateful to them all – and also to Cllr Ken Brown, my predecessor as Steering Group Chair – for their commitment to the process throughout the lengthy preparation period.

“I encourage the whole community to support the MNP when the Referendum takes place. It is very evident from what we see happening in Morpeth now, that what we desperately needed was a Plan, especially since the County Council’s new Local Plan for the county has not yet been finalised. Now we have a Plan for our immediate area, so please get behind it by voting ‘Yes’ in the referendum.”

CONSULTATION UPDATE BLOG – EDUCATION

There is little a Neighbourhood Plan can do to directly address education issues, however the draft MNP does include a Community Action addressing the provision of school places, and also planning policies setting out criteria for the expansion of schools and the siting and constructions of new schools if required.

CONSULTATION UPDATE BLOG – FLOODING

Although the Environmental Agency Flood Alleviation Scheme is just about complete, it only really addresses flooding originating from the Wansbeck.  So, we have included robust planning policies covering the risk of flooding from burns and from surface water, developer responsibilities in relation to flood risk and also the overall capacity demands on the sewerage network arising from new development.

CONSULTATION UPDATE BLOG – TRANSPORT

Radical proposals in the Issues and Options consultation for town centre pedestrianisation or a one-way system received support, but not sufficient to take forward in the draft Plan.

Instead, there are more general planning policies and community actions looking to address town centre congestion, increased scope for walking and cycling, and improving public transport.  Much of this depends on the impact of the Morpeth Northern Bypass which has just received the Government go-ahead and , we understand, will take about eighteen months to build.

The draft Plan also proposes to protect land to allow possible future construction of the Stobhill-Loansdean Link Road and a four-way junction onto the A1 at either Clifton or Whalton.  The Clifton junction is, of course, in Stannington Parish, so we may be beholden to the Stannington Neighbourhood Plan process on this one.

CONSULTATION UPDATE BLOG – ECONOMY

We are arguing that if Morpeth is to be a ‘growth point’, that growth should be in the local economy as well as in housing numbers.  The draft MNP identifies a need for employment land to provide more local jobs alongside the extra housing.  As well as Coopies Lane and Pegswood Industrial Estate, it designates the County Hall site to remain allocated for employment – and some 8.5ha up at Fairmoor/Northgate.  We do need more employment land than this, and we are looking to the County Council and their current Employment Land Supply study to come up with suggestions that will be in line with our draft plan.

Opportunities for co-ordinated economic development in the town centre are identified, a primary shopping zone is designated and the ongoing need for one or more hotels in the Plan area is highlighted.

The draft Plan also recognises the need for a replacement Leisure Centre within the plan period and aspirations for an Arts and Heritage Hub – and it sets out planning criteria for such community developments.

CONSULTATION UPDATE BLOG – SETTLEMENT BOUNDARIES

Settlement Boundaries

With no further major housing sites required in the Plan period, proposed settlement boundaries for Morpeth and the outlying villages remain tight, whilst for Pegswood, the boundary has been extended to include  land for a further 200 houses.  The boundaries really need to be looked at in conjunction with the proposals in the draft Core Strategy for the inner boundary of the new Morpeth Green Belt.  The Core Strategy also proposes ‘safeguarded land’ status for several sites, meaning that they should be retained for possible development after the Plan period (i.e. after 2031) if needed.

CONSULTATION UPDATE BLOG – HOUSING

Housing

The big talking point is housing: The draft MNP is working to 1700 extra houses in the plan area based on figures in earlier drafts of the Northumberland Core Strategy, though the current draft Core Strategy proposes 2100 extra houses for the MNP area.  As at the end of December 2014, planning permission already exists for 1136 houses in the plan area – mostly in locations that would not have been supported if the Neighbourhood Plan had been in force.

Both the draft Core Strategy and the draft MNP agree that further housing in the plan period (through to 2031) should be north of the river, on the old St George’s Hospital site. The MNP plans positively for housing growth and believes that making provision for at least 1700 dwellings is ambitious but realistic, whilst allowing for choice in the local housing market.