Hadrian Learning Trust Academy and NCC propose the closure and sell off of the much loved Hexham Middle School site and its relocation to the Queen Elizabeth High School site. This will have devastating impacts on the Grade II listed Hydro building and sweep away its much loved historic walled garden. The local road and footpath network simply cannot cope with the proposed additional 600 pupils and staff.Existing and Proposed QEHMS

Hexham Civic Society welcomes much-needed investment in these schools but wants to see the two site campus retained (a cost of £39m vs £36m). We urge people to review the plans and to make their views known to the planning officer at west.planning@northumberland.gov.uk quoting reference 19/03998/CCD and 19/03999/LBC “Redevelopment of Queen Elizabeth High School including the refurbishment of Grade II listed hydro building and Westfield house for ongoing school use. New build school buildings of 2 and 3 storeys. Demolition of existing school buildings and associated new access points, car parking, bus parking, landscaping, grass playing fields, hard courts, and the artificial sport pitches including sports lighting” as soon as possible. We urge NCC to step back and reconsider these plans with their far-reaching implications for education, traffic, heritage and accessibility.

19/03998/CCD and 19/03999/LBC “Redevelopment of Queen Elizabeth High School including the refurbishment of Grade II listed hydro building and Westfield house for ongoing school use. New build school buildings of 2 and 3 storeys. Demolition of existing school buildings and associated new access points, car parking, bus parking, landscaping, grass playing fields, hard courts, and the artificial sport pitches including sports lighting”.

Thank you for inviting views on the proposal that would see Hexham Middle School move from its current site to a new building at the existing Queen Elizabeth High School. Firstly, we are concerned over the unnecessarily short window given to comment on such an important application – with public consultation events held 11th and 14th September, and an application lodged 26th September, the deadline of 31st October gives insufficient opportunity for the public to make their views known on proposals which – if approved – will have far-reaching implications for Hexham for years. We ask that the deadline be extended a further two weeks as is within the discretion of the planning authority for such a major scheme.

Further to this our comments are as follows:

Principle of the site merger

We welcome the proposed investment in new buildings and refurbishment of the existing historic QE building but do not support the closure of the Hexham Middle School site and would wish to see this money is invested into the existing two sites – seeing Hexham as the campus rather than one constrained site.
We understand the rationale behind moving having two schools on the same site and the smaller project cost of £36m vs £39m. However, these savings are insignificant when considering the expenditure over the schools lifetime and the risks associated with the proposal could easily result in considerable additional unexpected expenditure. The Society would be interested to review the Council’s risk assessment on the proposal.

Impacts of the Proposal

We highlight the following adverse impacts of the proposed move which we do not feel have been given due weight. These are: –
• The existence of two school sites gives greater flexibility as Hexham develops versus the constraining effect of disposing of the HMS site and concentrating on one intensively used location;
• The traffic impact of 450-500 additional children and parents accessing the site by car bus or on foot or bicycle. These numbers will inevitably increase over the years causing more congestion. The area of QE is highly constrained in terms of road network and a poor footpath network with low scope for improvement without radical intervention or initiatives and additional costs (see risk assessment comment above)
• The intensive use of the QE site will clearly result in detrimental impacts on the listed building and its curtilage buildings The intensive use will also have an adverse impact on the trees and biodiversity of the site.
• Any scheme on the QEHS site must respond more sympathetically to the existing heritage assets on the site, and their setting. We are also concerned about the impact of the proposed scheme on the heritage assets at the QEHS site – notably the detached caretaker’s house, the historic walled garden and ancillary buildings. These are to be swept away with new build effectively colliding with the rear of the historic Hydro.
• The design of the new buildings sits badly when juxtaposed with the existing buildings and involves demolition incompatible with the Council’s duties under Sections 16 and 66 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act, 1990, as regards having SPECIAL REGARD to the preservation of the listed building and its setting. The scheme as proposed also has an adverse impact on the Hexham Conservation Area. Section 72 of the above Act requires the Planning Authority to pay SPECIAL ATTENTION to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of that area. The loss of trees, building demolition and design of the new building manifestly fail to satisfy these duties.

Constructive Comment

We would strongly urge that the basic principles of the scheme are wholly revised, and that any new build considers the following:
• That consideration is given to turning the new building through 90 degrees so that the main and entrance is from the Allendale Road – not the residential Whetstone Bridge Road. The proposed approach along a “triumphal way” is about ¼ mile long and about 30’ of elevation.
• That the proposed use of hard surfaces throughout the scheme be substituted for permeable surfaces to offset the impacts of climate change.
• Noting the Climate Change Emergency declared by Northumberland County Council and Hexham Town Council this summer, we strongly urge the Hadrian Learning Trust to be as bold and courageous as possible to develop a low carbon climate resilient school for future generations.
• We are highly concerned over the seeming presence of “high carbon” ideas around transport and an over reliance on the private car. On a difficult constrained site, it seems short-sighted to set aside such extensive portions of the site for private car parking. Car parking should be limited and ideally charged for – with any revenue used to support a residents parking scheme in the adjoining residential area to discourage “fly car parking”.
• The Society urges the approach that trips by bike, foot and public transport are the natural choice by promoting cycling – cycle lanes to the school, walking made easier by making the pavements to the school wider with better crossings and so on. We note the lack of cycling provision. There is a need for an holistic approach to encourage cycling such as safe cycling routes throughout Hexham and the surrounding area.

Lastly, we emphasise that we wish to see the two separate sites maintained and that we do not think that the proposed works are compatible with the Council’s duty to the historic buildings, to Hexham Conservation Area, or to the safe and effective movement of such large numbers of children, parents, teachers and other staff.