All 3 Morpeth County Councillors voted in favour of a motion to repeal the draft Core Strategy yesterday. The document was controversially shoehorned through by the previous Labour administration, with support from the Liberal Democrats, despite significant objection from Morpeth residents. The Strategy proposed the construction of up to 26,000 new houses across the county, despite towns like Morpeth already struggling to cope with new developments.
The Core Strategy is an important legal document, which becomes the backbone of planning policy for the county over decades after it is approved. This Strategy was used in its draft form as planners discussed the application to demolish County Hall and replace it with out-of-town retail, and gave little regard to the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan which was passed following a referendum. When the previous council approved the current document, the Conservative group asked for a delay to allow voters a chance to voice their opinions in the council elections, but Labour were keen pass the plan without delay.
The main concern, raised by Conservatives, is that it would lead to a ‘development free for all’ by over-estimating the number of housing required between now and 2031. Labour’s plan used data from 2012 (which has already been proven to be out of date) to allow for 24,320 houses in Northumberland, with an additional 2000 at Dissington Garden Village.
Conservative Councillor for Morpeth North, David Bawn spoke in favour of withdrawing the Strategy during the Full Council meeting yesterday. In his speech he pointed to the Shepherd's development on land north of Lancaster Park, and the applications to demolish County Hall which were passed despite the draft core strategy being in place. He argued that the time delay of consulting on a new strategy is a 'small price to pay' to get the Core Strategy right. In his role as Town Councillor, he later told councillors that 'the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan is now the strongest legal protection against development in Morpeth.'
Plans to withdraw the strategy were supported by John Beynon (Morpeth Stobhill), Richard Wearmouth (Morpeth Kirkhill), David Bawn (Morpeth North) and David Towns (Pegswood). Opposition was mainly Labour, who spoke strongly in favour of the new developments, with the support of some Liberal Democrats whose 3 councillors were split.