West Area Planning Gilesgate Pool13/02291/CON and 13/02289/FUL

STOP PRESS: The Gilesgate Swimming Baths ‘McCarthy and Stone’ apartment scheme has apparently been pulled from the agenda for Planning Committee 16/04/14. This is apparently due to procedural problems with notifications.

It is possible that it will eventually come to committee 21st May 2014. HCS hopes that the opportunity will be taken by the developers to withdraw the present proposal and address the concerns of the Conservation Officer, English Heritage, HCS and others who have offered their constructive criticism on the proposal.

Proposed Haugh Lane Elevation Image C Planning Bureau Ltd

Proposed Haugh Lane Elevation Image C Planning Bureau Ltd

Hexham Civic Society is sad to report that the McCarthy and Stone  retirement complex planned for the site of the former Henry Bell Wool Warehouse, and latterly Gilesgate baths in Hexham is set for approval this coming Wednesday. Castigated as the ‘Tower of Mabel’ by HCS, we support the proposed use of the site but consider the design wholly inappropriate.

Despite objections from a diverse range of opponents including the County Council Conservation Officer, English Heritage, Hexham Civic Society, numerous individuals and Hexham Town Council, planning officers will recommend that West Area Planning Committee approve the seven storey towers.

Proposed Gilesgate Elevation Image C Planning Bureau Ltd

Proposed Gilesgate Elevation Image C Planning Bureau Ltd

First mooted by the developers in 2012 at pre-application meetings, the scheme has sadly not developed in any meaningful way and HCS views it as a gross overdevelopment of this sensitive Conservation Area site, in close proximity to a number of important listed buildings and Hexham’s unique Grade I listed Abbey. With a cheap and cheerful materials palate including PVCu windows, rubber membrane roofing, render and fake stone we do not believe that the design has taken account of the unique nature of the site. HCS has continually sought to engage with the developers to constructively suggest how the design can be moderated and made appropriate to its setting but sadly without success.

Our hopes are now with the members of the West Area Planning Committee who we are urging not to approve the scheme in its present form. The Committee will review the scheme at 18:00 on Wednesday 16th April at  Prospect House Hexham and a number of objectors are expected to make their views known.

Planning References are NCC 13/02289/FUL AND 13/02291/CON for development at the former Gilesgate swimming pool site and Haugh Lane, Hexham. Any comments you wish to make can be sent to the west area planning office at:- west.planning@northumberland.gov.uk  FAO Mr G Robbie, or via the Council’s planning web-site. A report in the Newcastle Journal can be viewed here.

Please join us at 19:00 on Thursday 5th June at the Salvation Army Hall on Market Street, Hexham for our AGM.

Following this at 19:30 we will be hosting a free talk by Andie Harris of the North of England Civic Trust.

‘This Old House’

Join HCS and Andie Harris of the North of England Civic Trust for a talk on traditional buildings and how to keep them heated, healthy and happy. Andie will tell us how pre-twentieth century buildings can be best maintained and what measures can be taken to sensitively upgrade and improve them while keeping their special character.

It is expected that Andie’s talk will be about one hour and refreshments will be served. Members and non-members welcome. No prior booking required.

In the 2014 Budget announced on Wednesday 19th March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, confirmed an increase in the VAT threshold from April 2014, but failed to make a targeted reduction in VAT from 20% to 5% on housing and renovation repair. The reduction has been the key ask of the Cut the VAT coalition, a group which includes more than 60 charities (including the Heritage Alliance), trade associations and business groups that are all united in calling on all three parties to commit to this VAT reduction. Loyd Grossman, Chairman of The Heritage Alliance, and leading advocate for a change to VAT, said:

“I’m very disappointed that the Government hasn’t seen fit to reduce VAT to 5% on repair, maintenance and alteration, despite the compelling evidence produced by the Cut the VAT Coalition that this will boost the economy by more than £15 billion from 2015 to 2020, and create more than 95,000 jobs. (more…)

The saga of the proposed McCarthy and Stone 7 storey residential development proposed for the site of the former baths at Gilesgate grinds on. In order to achieve their desired scheme the applicants need to relocate the present footpath that crosses the site, linking Gilesgate to Haugh Lane.

ImageThe footpath (ref Footpath 52) is now the subject of an NCC application to make a ‘Diversion Order’. Hexham Civic Society believes that  while the proposed use of the site is acceptable, the proposed development is poorly designed and out of scale with its surroundings.  See our report on the ‘Tower of Mabel’ here.  We believe that a better scheme could be achieved if the footpath were left more or less where it is at present and improved. This would allow the trees on the site proposed for felling to be retained, and would avoid the narrow and potentially dangerous ginnel that the applicants wish to replace the present path with.

The proposed path lacks the good levels of visibility that the present route achieves and will risk ‘designing in crime’ rather than designing it out. We think that a tight ginnel with poor overlooking and a set of steep steps will invite anti social behavior. It will also fail to connect to the existing pelican crossing on Haugh Lane which will make pedestrians more likely to risk not using the lights to cross the road (the crossing is unlikely to be able to be relocated due to proximity to road junctions).  We would like to see McCarthy and Stone reconsider the entirety of their proposal and to come up with a scheme appropriate to Hexham Conservation Area which all residents can support.

If you have a view on this proposal please make it known to the Northumberland County Council Definitive Map Officer Mr Alex Bell . Mr Bell can be contacted by email at Alex.Bell@northumberland.gov.uk or in writing at : Alex Bell (Definitive Map Officer – Sustainable Transport), Local Services Group, Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth, NE61 2EF. Telephone: 01670 624133

At its meeting on Monday 3rd March Hexham Town Council objected to the proposed footpath diversion, primarly citing safety concerns over the proposed new arrangement.

Despite a commitment made to Hexham Town Council on Monday 3rd of February that the NCC Policy Board would commit to full public consultation on options for bus station provision in Hexham, NCC Councillors appear to have ruled out retention on the current site:

http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/northumberland-county-council-votes-hexham-6698390

Based on supposed ‘health and safety concerns’ dating from a 2006 report by Council Officers the present site is apparently unable to be retained. This is in direct opposition to the 2013 Hexham Bus Station petition in which 2,500 signatories asked for retention on the present site and in opposition to NCC portfolio holder Councillor Swithenbank’s promises to Hexham residents and Town Councillors made only last Monday.

Following the Policy board meeting on Tuesday 11th NCC released a statement saying: “We know that the provision of bus services is a very important issue for the residents of Hexham and surrounding areas.

“However the current bus station does not meet modern safety requirements, and we also have to consider the long-term viability and vitality of the town centre”.

Hexham residents, who were joined in their opposition to the scheme by MP Guy Opperman, might justifiably feel aggrieved that their stated preference for retention on the existing site has been wholly ignored. The concerns of Hexham Town Council, which had asked for a set of options, including retention of the existing site have clearly been swept aside in NCCs eagerness to dispose of the site to its preferred partner Dysart, who own the adjacent derelict properties.

We await with interest the proposed ‘consultation’ exercise, which apparently omits the one option consistently called for by Hexham residents.

Bensons coverWe are pleased to say that on Monday Hexham Town Council unanimously rejected the ‘preferred option’ of NCC to sell off the existing bus station site and pursue the ‘on street’ option with Benson’s Monument to host a new roundabout to facilitate turning buses. It requested that no deal was to be done before several options were brought forward by NCC for public consultation, and that no decision would be made without the support of a majority of Hexham residents.

We were very alarmed at the meeting to hear NCC Officers explain that pedestrian safety at this new and unwanted roundabout would be safeguarded by the provision of pedestrian guardrailing – exactly the car-centric, anti-pedestrian and aesthetically illiterate ‘solution’ which HCS fears this scheme will engender. We have discussed the numerous other failings of the ‘on street’ scheme in our Winter/Spring newsletter.

Despite Town Council stated opposition the sale of the site remains on the agenda of NCCs Policy Board meeting on the 11th.  We have written as below to Policy board members and would urge you, whether or not you support the sale, to express your view to them. We know for a fact that one of them has expressed the view that they should “sell now and talk later”. We do not believe that this reflects the democratic will of Hexham residents or of its Town and County Councillors, nor is it a sensible negotiating position.

Emails for board members are as follows: Grant.Davey@northumberland.gov.uk; David.Ledger@northumberland.gov.uk; Robert.Arckless99@northumberland.gov.uk; Susan.Dungworth@northumberland.gov.uk; Allan.Hepple@northumberland.gov.uk; Peter.Jackson@northumberland.gov.uk; Paul.Kelly@northumberland.gov.uk; ‘Jeff.Reid@northumberland.gov.uk’; Valerie.Tyler@northumberland.gov.uk; Ian.Swithenbank@northumberland.gov.uk

To each member of NCC’s Policy Board

“Dear Councillor,

Item 11 on the agenda of the next Policy Board meeting reads: “Hexham Bus Station To seek authority for the Council to enter into an agreement for the sale of the Council’s interest in Hexham Bus Station and to seek in principle approval for the relocation of the existing bus station facility.”

I request you not to give the authority sought and to defer any decision on this matter until there has been a full public consultation on the options for Hexham Bus Station and on any resulting changes to the arrangements for buses.

You will be aware that there is total opposition from Hexham’s electorate and from bus users to NCC’s current proposal. This opposition has been expressed in the media, in correspondence with councillors and officers, and at the meeting of Hexham Town Council on Monday 3 February. The plans presented by officers to that meeting were unacceptable both to the Town Council and to the large number of the public who were present.

Unfortunately none of Hexham’s County Councillors is on the Policy Board or any NCC committee that might have a voice in this matter. There is therefore no direct representation of the interests of Hexham and its electorate. The total rejection of the current proposals has, however, been made clear and it would be a denial of democratic process if the Board were to give the authority sought.

Councillor Swithenbank stated repeatedly at the Hexham Town Council meeting that there would be no sale of land until such time as there is a scheme which the majority of people support. This would be democracy at work and I ask again that you do not give the authority sought. It would be wrong for changes to be made to the status quo without the agreement of Hexham’s electorate and of users of its bus services.

Yours sincerely,

For and on behalf of Hexham Civic Society”

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