Wrecking ballAs many of you will have read in the press, the Homebase proposal for the Goods Yard at Hexham Station has been approved unanimously by Northumberland County Councillors at their Planning Committee meeting 20th February 2013. The scheme was recommended for approval by NCC despite the opposition of NCCs own Conservation Officer, Hexham Civic Society, Hexham Town Council, several dozen members of the public, and national groups including the Victorian Society and the Ancient Monument’s Society. Hexham Train Station is Grade II listed and is believed  to be the second oldest operational train station in the world. The lack of compliance of the proposal to various local and national planning policies was also highlighted.

Nonetheless, demolition of adjacent railway buildings, acknowledged to be ‘heritage assets’ in the NCC committee report were approved for demolition as part of this application (The 1901 Stables building and nearby ‘warehouseman’s Bothy’ and adjacent timber structure). The ‘generic sheds’ were similarly approved for construction.

Hexham Civic Society has always supported development on this site, but believes that this should not have been at the expense of existing historic buildings, and for the addition of a banal set of large retail sheds whose design exhibited such a poor understanding of the assets of this unique site (Homebase and Pets at Home). HCS voiced their objections at the Planning Committee, but the scheme was approved with very little deliberation by County Council members.

Other objectors questioned the claimed job numbers that the scheme would create, arguing that these would be displaced from existing Town Centre retailers.

HCS also highlighted factual inaccuracies in the submission by developers Rokeby, Network Rail and Wolsingham Planning regarding the materials proposed for the scheme, the inaccuracy of claims by Network Rail that the Stables had been marketed without success for the last five years, and the impact of the proposed demolition on the viability of the scheme, which we showed to be based on exaggerated refurbishment costs and a poor understanding of the potential of the site.

HCS is now considering its position on this issue, and on how best to ensure that NCC carries out an effective role is using the planning conditions and reserved matters associated with this application to achieve the best that can be managed given this regrettable decision. As ever, if HCS members have views on this please use the comment facility below or drop us a line via the usual means.

We thank Hexham Town Council, HCS members, and others who took the time to object to the many evident failings of this application and who mistakenly put their faith in NCC and County Councillors to secure a scheme on this site appropriate to its conservation area, and listed building context.