Hexham Civic Society members will recall the long battle with developers McCarthy and Stone over the proposed ‘Tower of Mabel’ seven storey retirement scheme for the Old Baths Site on Gilesgate/Haugh lane. This is within the Hexham Conservation Area and Hexham Civic Society objected to the scale of the scheme, its massing, its impact on trees in the conservation area and the relocation of the present footpath to a tight ginnel with no overlooking.

In 2014, despite the concerns of the Council’s Conservation Staff, and Historic England, the Police Architectural Liaison Officer, and over 350 local objectors, the scheme was approved by NCC Planning Committee – reference 13/02289/ful.

In 2017, McCarthy and Stone pulled out of the scheme, citing geological problems. The site was again marketed by NCC who own the site.

One crumb of comfort for residents was the provision in the approved scheme of retention of trees to Gilesgate, the north of Gilesgate Court and a retention of the large sycamore to Haugh Lane. The montages below show retention as clear as day. The Committee Report present in 2014 was also unambiguous on this retention and read:

7.34 The trees on the embankment would be removed in their entirety. Whilst this would be regrettable, it is felt that due to the condition and health of the trees in question an appropriately implemented planting and landscaping scheme would add to the area in the medium to long term. One of the existing Haugh Lane frontage Sycamore trees would however be retained, as would a Hawthorn close to the northwest site boundary and the row of beech trees. The latter are currently at the rear of the Haugh Lane bungalows within the site but, with the proposed re-siting of the footpath through the site, would take on a more prominent position within the streetscene of the footpath link. The combination of the retention of some of the trees, together with a comprehensive replanting scheme would therefore provide a planned approach to maintaining tree cover within the area. In the short term, the retention of the frontage tree on to Haugh Lane, together with the group of trees on the opposite side of the road would mean that whilst longer views may be altered, they would not completely lose the presence of mature trees. As a foreground to the town centre behind the proposal would result in the evolution of the view, rather than complete revolutionary change. The proposal would accord with the provisions of Core Strategy Policy NE1 and Local Plan Policies GD2, NE33 and NE37”.

The approved 2013 scheme showing trees retained

Sadly on the 2nd March, despite Northumberland County Council having been alerted by concerned residents, and having met contractors on site, all trees were felled on the Haugh Lane slopes. We are unaware why contractors were allowed to continue in apparent contradiction of the approved scheme and the restrictions placed by the Decision Notice to 13/02289/ful.

The current owners of the site are believed to be ‘Hexham Hotels Ltd’, a newly formed company with a Gateshead office. Hexham Civic Society is aware of a current ‘Discharge of Conditions’ application for the site, showing the removal of the trees but not yet approved. We also understand that the works are entirely lacking in planning permission, as ‘pre-commencement’ conditions have not been fully discharged.

Site as of 2nd March with trees reduced to stumps

We urge members to make their views known re application 18/00365/DISCON | Discharge of conditions 3 (archaeology), 4 (foul/surface water), 8 (tree protection), 10 (construction method statement), 13 (dust), 15 (contamination 1) and 18 (mitigation report) relating to approved planning application 13/02289/FUL | Former Swimming Pool And Associated Land Gilesgate Hexham Northumberland NE46 3NP

The case officer can be emailed at Neil.armstrong@northumberland.gov.uk

While it is too late for the trees on site, now reduced to chippings, we do not believe that the proposed landscaping scheme is acceptable and urge NCC to insist on replacement with extra-heavy standard trees, and the prosecution of the developers. We do not believe that ordinary householders would be given such free reign.