Council costs after homes in Northumberland hamlet approved on appeal

The site which has been granted approval on appeal in Medburn. Picture from Google
The site which has been granted approval on appeal in Medburn. Picture from Google

Northumberland taxpayers will be picking up the bill after a planning inspector awarded costs to a developer whose refused housing bid has been overturned.

Ethical Partnership’s outline application for up to 16 new homes on land to the north of The Avenue, between Tynedale and Dyke House, in Medburn, was unanimously refused by the Castle Morpeth Local Area Council at its meeting in November last year, against the advice of planning officers.

Following an appeal, planning inspector Geoff Underwood concluded that permission should be given for the development in the hamlet to the south-west of Ponteland, which has seen a raft of applications approved in recent years.

He also ordered that Northumberland County Council must pay the applicant’s legal costs as it had been ‘unreasonable’ in rejecting the application while providing no evidence to support its refusal reasons.

The main issues were whether the site is an appropriate location for housing development, the impact it would have on road safety and its effect on the character and appearance of the area.

The inspector concluded that while the site’s location is contrary to the relevant policy in the Castle Morpeth Local Plan, this conflict ‘carries limited weight, whereas the fact that a significant amount of other housing development in Medburn has been found to be acceptable without any evident change in circumstances carries considerable weight in favour of the development’.

In terms of highways safety – with the private, unadopted and narrow The Avenue the source of constant concerns – Mr Underwood said that he has ‘some sympathy for users of The Avenue, particularly those who have lived in the vicinity for some time, in respect of the considerable inconvenience that they report relating to additional traffic, including construction traffic, using the narrow road, as well as the frustrations and uncertainties about maintenance and responsibility for The Avenue’.

However, he continued, ‘there is no technical evidence that the development would result in material harm to the safety of any users of the road itself where its narrow width and sharp corners would be likely to require all vehicle traffic to progress at slow speeds and with care’.

Finally, given that the application is in outline, the details of the design would be subject to a separate application and ‘there is no evidence that an acceptable scheme would not be capable of being advanced at the reserved-matters stage’.

In his costs decision, Mr Underwood said: ‘The council’s failure to produce evidence to substantiate the three reasons for refusal on appeal was unreasonable, as was preventing development which should clearly be permitted, having regard to its accordance with national policy and other material considerations.

‘Had the council not acted unreasonably in these respects, the applicant would not have been faced with the unnecessary expense of lodging the appeal. I therefore find that unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense has been demonstrated and an award of costs is justified.’

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “We note the decision of the Planning Inspectorate in respect of this appeal by the applicant and will take this into account.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service