Probe proposes retention of Morpeth green belt policy

An environmental study into the revocation of the North East regional strategy has proposed that a policy relating to the green belt at Morpeth is retained until a new local plan for Northumberland is adopted in order to prevent unwanted development.

Pickles: 'completely open mind' on consultation exercise
Pickles: 'completely open mind' on consultation exercise
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has this week launched a consultation on an environmental report into the revocation of the North East Regional Spatial Strategy.

The study is the latest in a series of updated strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) into the government’s decision to revoke regional strategies to be published by the DCLG.

It proposes that the Structure Plan Policy S5 from the Northumberland County and National Park Joint Structure Plan First Alteration relating to the green belt at Morpeth is retained. The report says that removing the 2005 policy before the council has adopted a local plan which defines green belt boundaries could put green belt land at risk from development.

According to the SEA, the North East Regional Strategy had retained the policy to "maintain a satisfactory strategic planning framework for the preparation of local plans". But it says that detailed green belt boundaries have not yet been defined for that part of the policy which relates to the area of the former Castle Morpeth Borough Council.

According to the study, carried out by consultancy AMEC, the revocation of the regional strategy will lead to "significant positive environmental effects", although it says that these will be "largely similar" to those if the strategy were retained.

It adds that, for the majority of policies, it is "difficult to identify clear differences" between the effects of retention and revocation.

The report warns that the revocation of the plan and the introduction of the Localism Act’s duty to cooperate, which requires local authorities to consult and engage with neighbouring councils in the preparation of local plans, will "require new ways of working for local authorities".

The report says this may "lead to some delay in putting in place local plans and other planning policy or in establishing what the development needs are of their area having regard to the needs of others areas as well".

It adds: "The net effect of this may be a slowing down of development in the short and medium term as the new approaches are implemented - this in turn may lead to a reduction in the positive and negative environmental effects over this period."

Speaking earlier this week during a Commons debate on the new Growth and Infrastructure Bill, communities secretary Eric Pickles said that the regional strategies represent the "single greatest threat" to the green belt.

Pickles said: "We are consulting on the strategies, and I assure the House that I have a completely open mind on that consultation. Once it is over, we will come to a decision on their future."

Last year, the DCLG launched a 12-week consultation on a set of SEAs into its decision to abolish the strategies. But in a written statement issued in July 2012, communities minister Baroness Hanham said that a set of updated reports would be published for an additional period of consultation.

Hanham said that the decision followed a "significant ruling" on the interpretation and application of the European strategic environmental assessment issued by the European Court of Justice.

Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Revocation of the North East of England Regional Strategy: Environmental Report is available here.

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