This plan is our community’s opportunity to shape and guide development that will take place in our area and make sure that it is appropriate to our needs and aspirations. We can have a real say in where it goes and how it looks!
What is a Neighbourhood Plan?
The introduction of neighbourhood planning is part of wider challenges to the planning system in the Localism Act 2011. The Act claims to shift decision making from central government to communities and councils. Neighbourhood planning helps town and parish councils to prepare a plan for their area, in close consultation with residents, businesses and other local organisations. Neighbourhood Plans are for the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of everyone in the community.
Like many historic market towns, Morpeth’s heritage interest and local environment setting are its defining assets, and local residents are proud and protective of those features that give the town its sense of place and sense of identity.
UPDATE: MNP ‘MADE’
Northumberland County Council, as the local planning authority, formally ‘made’ the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan on 10th May 2016.
The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan went to referendum on Thursday 25th February, and we are delighted to announce that the 4099 electors (93.4%) voted in favour of the Plan on a 29.5% turnout.
All registered electors in the five parishes covered by the Neighbourhood Plan (Morpeth, Pegswood, Hebron, Hepscott and Mitford) were eligible to vote in the referendum.
Now all that remains is for Northumberland County Council, as the local Planning Authority, to “make” the Plan, that is to adopt the Neighbourhood Plan as part of their Local Development Plan.
The Referendum version of the Plan and a number of supporting documents are available via clicking on the links below:
Publicity about the final draft version of The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan was carried out by the County Council over a six week period ending on 5 August 2015.
The independent Examiner has now (October 2015) completed his report and recommends that, with some modifications, it satisfies Government requirements, and is therefore suitable to be put to a local referendum. The Examiner’s Report is available for download below and on the NCC website.
The County Council will now consider the recommendations in the examiner’s report. If the Council is satisfied that the plan meets legal requirements it will be put to a local referendum in the Morpeth area later this or early next year.
If the majority of people participating in the referendum vote in favour of the plan it will then be formally ‘made’, form part of the county’s development plan, and be used in the consideration of planning applications in the neighbourhood plan area.
Post Consultation and Submission
Formal consultation on the draft Plan concluded in March 2015 with around 600 responses received plus about two dozen detailed submissions from statutory consultees, developers and residents with particular interests. These broke down to 1400 individual topic-based comments.
The consultation responses have been used to revise the Plan.
The Submission draft Plan and Proposals Map, together with a draft Basic Conditions Statement outlining how the Plan meets regulatory requirements, and a Consultation Report have been assessed through a pre-Submission healthcheck.
The finalised Neighbourhood Plan, informed by feedback from the healthcheck, together with the supporting documents was submitted to Northumberland County Council (the local planning authority) on 2nd June 2015. After validating the submission documents, they passed them on to an independent Examiner.
Summary of Changes Made to the Plan Following Formal Consultation
With the support of Northumberland County Council strategic planners, informed by the emerging case history on Neighbourhood Plan examinations and appeals, it has been decided to go forward with submission ahead of completion and adoption of the Core Strategy of the Local Plan. The Neighbourhood Plan is in conformity with the general principles of the emerging Core Strategy which are unlikely to change dramatically.
The Plan has been divided into Part A containing (Planning) Policies and Part B which covers Community Actions. The introduction has been slimmed down with the removal of most reference to the Issues and Options consultation which were needed to set context in the Consultation draft.
Vision & Objectives – and Sustainable Development
Reference to the specific ambition for Pegswood has been incorporated into the overall vision for the Plan. The general development principles have been adapted into a new general policy on sustainable development.
Assessment of housing provision has been updated, and supports the Plan strategy on looking to the development of the St George’s Hospital site to meet most housing requirements during the later part of the Plan period and beyond. This justifies our adoption of relatively tight settlement boundaries which will help retain the character and identity of individual settlements.
The main policy has been extended to include a section on appropriate development in open countryside outside the settlement boundaries, which is intended to provide a robust framework until the new Morpeth Green Belt extension is designated in the Core Strategy.
Supporting policies have been included for Hebron, Hepscott and Mitford setting criteria for development in these smaller villages.
Landscape Corridor and Wildlife Corridor policies have been unified though the different functions of the types of corridor which are maintained.
The range of Local Green Space designated has been re-assessed in light of further evidence. A potential conflict between the designation of Tommy’s Field as a Local Green Space and the need to enlarge the neighbouring road junction to facilitate access to the St George’s Hospital Phase 1 development has been addressed. The policy designating Protected Open Space has been redrafted to be based on identification on the Proposals Map and listing in an Appendix to the Plan. A new Policy has been introduced giving protection to allotments.
The Policy on Local Wildlife Sites has been clarified to give statutory protection.
The Community Action on heritage assets at risk of harm has been redrafted to create a planning policy.
The policy on the town centre has been split into two: the first element establishes ‘town centre first’ criteria to protect and support the viability of the town centre, with an addition to support Pegswood village centre uses. The second element still designates the town centre, primary shopping area and shopping frontage which have now been incorporated into an inset on the Proposals Map. The primary shopping area boundary has been amended to exclude the Royal Mail Sorting Office.
The policy on key development opportunity sites have been redrafted to be explicitly conditional on the sites becoming available for redevelopment. The policy on other employment sites has been been more precise and better aligned with the new ‘town centre first’ policy. Some two ha of remaining employment land has been identified south of Northgate Hospital.
The housing provision assessment has been updated to 31st March 2015. The main housing policy has been amended to “at least 1700 houses” in line with NPPF requirements on flexibility, and now only explicitly identifies St George’s Hospital site Phases 1,2 and 3 for development, along with a provision for windfall sites. A new Community Action has been introduced emphasising the importance and urgency of masterplanning across all three phases of the St George’s Hospital site.
Policies on junctions on the A1 at Clifton or Whalton have been removed as being outside the powers of the Neighbourhood Plan. The Community Action promoting the development of strategic roadwork projects still includes these schemes and has been extended to include other junction improvements e.g. Sun Inn, Morpeth Station, Tommy’s Field (see above) and an assessment of the need for a further river crossing.
Sports, Arts & Leisure
The policies setting criteria for a new sports centre and cultural & heritage facilities have been combined as they covered essentially the same criteria, and the requirement for a sequential test has been clarified.
In close cooperation with Northumbrian Water Ltd, the Environment Agency and the County Council, the various draft Policies on flood alleviation and flood protection have been unified into a single comprehensive Policy. Given the history and ongoing flood risk, it is considered that the Plan area is a special case, so the Policy requiring development to reduce flood risk i.e. going beyond NPPF guidance, has been retained.
Changes to Submission Draft Plan Arising from Healthcheck
NCC commisioned an independant consultant to carry out a pre-submission Healthcheck on the draft Plan to identify issues and concerns that may arise during the Examination process. Subsequently, MTC commissioned the same consultant to help the Plan Preparation Group (PPG) redraft elements of the Plan in line with Healthcheck recommendations.
Clear Strategy statements have been included:
1. A general strategy for the Plan following on from the Vision and Objectives
2. Specific strategies for Local Economy, Housing and Transport
A standard format of “introduction” and “justification” supporting text has been placed around policies.
Although the Plan Objectives are to be taken as a whole, integral approach to delivering the Plan Vision, each Objective should address a single theme. Plan Objectives 3 and 8 have been redrafted to separate the themes of economic activity and growth from heritage and environment. Objective 1 has also been slightly modified.
Reference to a specific delivery mechanism has been removed from Plan Objective 5.
The General Development Principles were converted into a single Sustainable Development policy (Sus1) as part of the post Consultation changes. A General Design policy (Des1) drawing largely on policy elements from Housing and Heritage has been added to this. This new policy should inform and support all the other policies in the Plan.
The list of criteria for development in open countryside in Policy Set1 has been modified to align more closely with NPPF. The policies setting boundaries and development criteria for the villages have been combined into a single policy (Set2), which also defines the settlement boundary for Pegswood.
Strong advice in the Healthcheck indicated that the Local Green Space designation is intended to be very special indeed, with a high threshold for evidence and a strength and longevity equivalent to Green Belt designation. There is also a clear indication that if a Local Green Space designation were to be thrown out at Examination for lack of evidence or whatever, it would not just “drop down” automatically to Protected Open Space status, but it would end up having no protection at all.
The number of Local Green Space designations has therefore been pared right back. Statutory allotment sites (including Tommy’s Field) and sites outside settlement boundaries have been excluded as having adequate protection from other sources.
The Protected Open Space policy has been beefed up with two clear criteria setting out the conditions under which development would be permitted. Fuller justification for individual LGS and POS sites has been included in Appendix A of the Submission Plan.
The Heritage Section has been redrafted and the policies (Her1 (safeguarding), Her2 (local), Her3 (at risk)) strengthened and focussed on local heritage assets which currently have no protection outside the Neighbourhood Plan rather than Listed Buildings and Monuments which do. The design elements from Heritage have been incorporated into the new General Design policy (Des1).
Redrafting has clarified the various strategic threads of the Plan’s approach to Local Economy.
Policy Emp1 sets out the strategic approach to the Town Centre with Emp2 setting out the necessary development control approach. A need to define “river corridor” was identified and a text definition has been included, rather than incorporating it onto the Proposals Map. Given the lack of time and uncertainty over NCC’s intentions for their assets in Morpeth, clarity over the uses of the Key Opportunity Sites has been partially lost though they still feature in policies and on the Proposals Map and a Community Action commits to further work.
A separate policy (Emp3) for the Pegswood “Heart of the Village” has been created.
The employment land text has been informed by a late stage (14th May) sight of the draft Morpeth section of the NCC Commercial Demand Study, which is now out in June. The Plan policy on office provision and employment land allocation seems to be in line with this new evidence.
Policy Emp4 sets out the strategic approach to allocating and safeguarding employment land with a final section outlining the criteria to be met by new employment land proposals that may come forward. Emp5 allocates and sets out acceptable uses for the “new” employment sites at Fairmoor/Northgate (total 10ha), which are named “West Lane End” and “East Lane End”. Emp6 safeguards and defines acceptable uses for existing employment sites including County Hall. Note, the term Coopies Lane Business Park has been adopted throughout, though the term Pegswood Industrial Estate has been retained. Reference to safeguarding the potential employment site near Sanders Waste Management in Pegswood has been transferred to a Community Action, since safeguarding will be delivered through Green Belt designation in the Core Strategy.
Housing requirement and provision has to square the circle between local acceptable “at least 1700 houses”, the emerging Core Strategy figure of 2100 houses and the high level of existing planning approvals.
Policy Hou1 retains “at least 1700” and list the existing commitments, and the three allocated sites (St George’s Hospital and the two Pegswood sites) where these 1700 will come from. Policy Hou2 sets out St George’s Hospital as the principal housing development site and outlines much more detailed elements of a Masterplan. Note that advice is that the phasing of the St George’s Hospital site is not yet formalised, and that that is best done through the Masterplan, so all reference to formal phasing has been removed.
The Healthcheck advised that the Community Actions on housing could be brought forward as policies based on national planning policy, in order to ‘fill the gap’ before the Core Strategy is adopted. Polices Hou3,Hou4 and Hou5 do this. However, they cannot draw on any NCC evidence since this has not yet been “tested at Examination” – and such testing at our Neighbourhood Plan Examination would be inappropriate and premature.
The Plan’s strategy on transport have been separated into three threads all addressing traffic congestion in one way or another.
The first part identifies and describes modifications to the road network that may improve traffic flow and alleviate bottlenecks. However, it also recognises that these modifications lie with the NCC as Highways Authority and the Highway Agency and the Neighbourhood Plan can only establish Community Actions and not planning policies.
The second part identifies how development can improve or at least not exacerbate traffic congestion.
And the third part identifies how creation and maintenance of footpaths and cycleways, and improved public transport can provide alternatives to car use.
Sports, Arts & Leisure, Flooding, Infrastructure, Education
There were no major changes to these sections arising from the Healthcheck.
Changes to Community Actions in Part B largely followed on from the changes to the policies in Part A.