Hexham Civic Society has lodged an objection to the planning application recently placed for change of use of the former wine shop on the Market Place. Our objection is as below but what are your views? Will it bring a much needed use to an empty shop? Or is it inappropriate as a use in such a key building? Let us, and just as importantly, Northumberland County Council know. You can write with your views to: The Case Officer, Planning Application 20100388, Planning Department,  Northumberland County Council, Hadrian House, Market Street, Hexham, NE46 3NH 

Our Letter of Objection is as follows:

Planning Application 20100388, 32-34 Market Place, Hexham

Change of use from class A1 (retail) to class A2 (financial and professional services

This application is for a betting shop. The inclusion of an option for retail in no.34 must be ignored because it is dependent upon the granting of permission for a betting shop and is then only as a possibility.

Hexham Civic Society objects strongly to this application for change of use. An additional betting shop would

  • Be totally inappropriate in this sensitive location,
  • Be contrary to national and local planning policies, and
  • Bring harm, not benefit, to Hexham

Location

The importance of Hexham’s outstanding Market Place, arguably one of the most attractive in England, and of the buildings forming its boundary is demonstrated by these buildings being designated:

a)      Primary Shopping Frontages,

b)      Within the Primary Shopping Area,

c)      Within Hexham’s Historic Core,

d)     Within Hexham’s Conservation Area, and

e)      No 32 along with several of these buildings is a listed building.

There is therefore an overwhelming obligation upon Northumberland County Council to ensure that any development protects or enhances the character of this Market Place.

A betting shop is a totally inappropriate business for this sensitive historic environment whose current character is essential to the vitality and viability of Hexham, particularly to its tourism businesses. In addition, it is adjacent to the cinema much visited by children. It can be expected that the smokers and their resultant litter evident outside the adjacent Wetherspoons public house would extend to include the area outside the proposed betting shop.

While the shopfront, signage, advertisements etc. for the proposed betting shop would be the subject of a separate planning application, we take this opportunity to comment that a change to A2 is likely to create a relatively dead frontage, especially inappropriate given this building’s key location and prominence. Frontages typical of betting establishments, i.e. largely concealed from outside view by posters and other measures, would exacerbate this inappropriateness. Such premises would degrade the character of this sensitive, historic environment.

National and local planning policies

The Applicant’s Planning Support Statement purports to address relevant planning policies interpreting them to show that they allow or even encourage an additional betting shop in Hexham’s town centre. This is totally specious. The statement obfuscates the issue by seeking to show in a verbose manner that the introduction of the proposed betting shop would make a beneficial contribution to the town while ignoring the existence of two betting shops within the designated Primary Shopping Area. These already provide both betting shop facilities and competition within that business sector. The Support Statement ignores those parts of planning policies that are incompatible with the application.

Please see the detailed review below.

No benefit to Hexham

The Support Statement fails to show any incremental benefit to Hexham. Its conclusion that the proposal brings significant benefits is spurious. In particular the statements that this proposal would add to the diversity, vitality and viability of Hexham’s town centre are totally wrong. Since two betting shops already exist within the designated Primary Shopping Area of the town centre, no “diversity” would be introduced and any contributions betting shops make to the town centre’s “viability and vitality” have already been made by these existing betting shops.

On the contrary, the introduction of such an activity into the sensitive environment of Hexham’s historic Market Place would only cause harm.

Detailed review of planning policies

A review of the national and local policies referred to in the Applicant’s Planning Support Statement shows that they do not allow the proposed change of use.

PPS1: Delivering sustainable development

A betting shop would be contrary to PPS1 statements that the Government is committed to protecting and enhancing the quality of the natural and historic environment and requires planning policies to protect and enhance the quality, character and amenity value of urban areas. (paras. 17 and 18)

The Applicant’s Statement quotes extracts at length but these are in the most part irrelevant to the proposed change of use and an obfuscation, e.g. references to making land available, to the creation of sustainable communities and new homes, and to reducing social inequalities.

PPS4: Planning for sustainable economic growth

PPS4 is to promote the vitality and viability of town centres as important places for communities. An additional betting shop would not contribute in any way to promoting the “vitality and viability” of Hexham.

PPS4 requires that the historic, archaeological and architectural heritage of centres be conserved and, where appropriate, enhanced to provide a sense of place and a focus for the community and for civic activity. The growing number of events and other activities in the Market Place already meet this requirement. A betting shop is incompatible with these events and would negate or detract from the benefits conferred by them.

EC1 refers to an evidence base for development and states (1.4) when assessing the need for retail and leisure development local planning authorities should take account of both the quantitative and qualitative need for additional types of retail and leisure development. Betting shops already exist and there is no evidence of the need for an additional such shop.

EC4 quoted in the Statement refers to diversity. As betting shops already exist, the proposal does not add to diversity. It could be argued that, on the contrary, it would reduce diversity by removing the opportunity for a new type of business to set up on this site.

PPS5: Planning for the historic environment

The Government’s overarching aim is that the historic environment and its heritage assets should be conserved and enjoyed for the quality of life they bring to this and future generations (para.7). To achieve this the Government’s objectives for planning the historic environment include taking account of the wider social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits of heritage conservation. When these factors are taken into account, it is clear that a betting shop does not fit and will only harm the character of the Market Place’s historic environment.

The following local development policies, some of which are referred to in the Planning Support Statement, are also relevant.

Core Strategy Policy BE1

This policy states as principle (a) to “Conserve and where appropriate enhance the quality and integrity of Tynedale’s built environment and its historic features including archeology, giving particular protection to listed buildings, scheduled monuments and conservation areas.” The addition of a betting shop will neither conserve nor enhance the Market Place.

Policy BE22

Proposals for development which would adversely affect the assembled character or setting of a listed building will not be permitted.

While it seems that BE22 is concerned with detailed design, materials etc., about which there is no information in the Application, it is clear that the presence of a betting shop in the subject listed building and adjacent to other listed buildings will adversely affect their character and should not be permitted. Although referred to in the applicant’s Statement, this policy does not support a change of use

Core Strategy Policy RT1a

This policy is to maintain and enhance the vitality and viability of Primary Shopping Areas. The placing of a betting shop will degrade these aspects of the Market Place.

Core Strategy Policy RT3

This policy seeks to maximise the proportion of retail uses for Primary Shopping Frontages. Specifically it sets a minimum proportion of 85% of ground floor frontage for Hexham’s Primary Shopping Frontage. The applicant states that his proposal would reduce the existing proportion to 85.2%, i.e. above the minimum. It is however the applicant’s assessment and is so close to the acceptable minimum that its impact must be included in consideration of the application.

The Market Place is the principal focus of the town. As such it is highly important in social and economic terms and continues to accommodate long held traditions of trade, administration and culture in the town. A betting shop in this location would be contrary to national and local planning policies and we urge Northumberland County Council’s officers and members to refuse permission.