Gilesgate Baths scheme –“Tower of Mabel”
McCarthy & Stone pull out of footpath Public Enquiry

Hexham Civic Society has been advised that McCarthy & Stone Ltd have withdrawn their application to close and reroute Hexham Footpath 52 which runs through their proposed retirement complex located on the site of the former Hexham Baths on Gilesgate and Haugh Lane, Hexham. They also seem to have withdrawn from the wider development.

Along with almost 400 local objectors, HCS had originally objected to the 7 storey, 45 unit scheme on the basis of its design, massing, materials, loss of mature trees and open space on Haugh Lane and the public safety implications of the rerouted footpath. The scheme, first mooted in 2012, occupies land presently owned by Northumberland County Council. Despite substantial local objections, including from Hexham Town Council, Hexham Community Centre, and the Council’s own Conservation staff, the development was approved in May 2014 by the Council’s West Area Planning Committee (ref 13/02289/ful).

Haugh Lane Elevation - Planning Bureau ltd

Proposed Haugh Lane elevation – 7 Storey ‘Tower of Mabel’ – Image Copyright Planning Bureau Ltd

It could not be constructed however without the diversion of the present right of way through the site. A large number of local objections to this Diversion Order triggered a Public Inquiry which was due to be heard by the Planning Inspector this Month at the Great Hall, Hexham Abbey. Hexham Civic Society was advised at the last moment that McCarthy & Stone have withdrawn their proposed Diversion Order.

Hexham Civic Society has always supported the proposed use of the site, but argued that the scale of the scheme, and the implications of its design, were not suitable for such a sensitive site within Hexham Conservation Area and in the immediate vicinity of several Listed Buildings. We hope that McCarthy & Stone will consider a less intensive development that allows a footpath on a similar alignment to at present, and retains the mature trees on site. In 2014 members of the Society invited McCarthy & Stone representatives to a meeting to discuss how the scheme could be achieved and the footpath retained in its present location – Sadly our suggested amendments were not considered practical.
The Local Public Inquiry went ahead 17th May in Hexham Abbey’s Great hall as scheduled, but McCarthy & Stone representatives did not attend. Interested parties stated their case about the problems of re-routing the footpath, and these statements will be put on the record for if/when another developer decides to put in a planning application. We await the verdict on the closure of the footpath from the Government Inspector but without McCarthy & Stone on board, the schemes looks to be halted.

If McCarthy &Stone have withdrawn from their interest in the land, we urge Northumberland County Council to prepare a development brief for the site which recognises attributes on the site which should be retained and which requires a design solution of sufficient quality for this key town centre site. This should state the importance of existing mature trees on the site, the need for a safe and secure footpath to be retained in any scheme, retention of the Henry Bell Warehouse façade (on Gilesgate) and the need for a scale and design that preserves and enhances the Conservation Area – an asset to Hexham not an eyesore.