Image © Fred Jenks

A Ropery Interior – Image © Fred Jenks

Hexham Civic Society is sad to report that the proposed demolition of Hexham’s Grade II Ropery was approved 14:1 at Planning Committee in Morpeth on the 3rd November. Despite Hexham Civic Society’s offer to work with developer Dysart to retain and refurbish the building the proposal to demolish was approved. This was in the face of concerns raised by NCCs own conservation and historic buildings officers who assessed the proposals as causing ‘substantial harm’.

Historic mapping showing the Grade II Ropery Image © Nicholson Nairn Ltd

Historic mapping showing the Grade II Ropery Image © Nicholson Nairn Ltd

The Northumberland County Council Planning Officer Jenny Green recommended approval of the scheme, of which Dysart and NCC are the main beneficiaries. Hexham resident Dr Anne Pickering made representations against the scheme, highlighting that the loss of the bus station was opposed by in excess of 10,000 individuals who had signed her petition against the relocation to Loosing Hill at the edge of the town centre.

The demolition of the Ropery was judged to be acceptable due to the ‘substantial public benefit’ arising from the development of the vacated bus station site. HCS contested that this benefit was unrelated to the loss of the Ropery and would occur anyway. Only Dougie Watson, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Norham and Islandshires (Near Berwick upon Tweed) stood up for Hexham in voting against the proposed demolition. We thank him for his impartial interest in the town and wish that Tynedale representatives on the Planning Committee were capable of similar feats.

Our statement to committee read:

3rd November 2015                                                                                     

15/02794/FUL and 15/02795/LBC – HCS objection to demolition of the Grade II Ropery

Hexham Civic Society notes that the proposed demolition of Hexham’s Grade II Ropery is recommended for approval by the Case Officer. We wish to highlight x3 issues which we would like Committee to consider before making its judgement. Although we share the concerns of the Council Heritage Officer regarding the bulk of the southern units, and the demolition of the Nicky Westgate Photography building, we focus our objection on the loss of the Ropery.

The Ropery is a Grade II building which was listed in 1991 and has been in the ownership of the developer Dysart for over a decade. Our first point is that we believe that the present neglected state of the building can expressly not be taken into account in determining this application – as per paragraph 130 of the NPPF which states that “Where there is evidence of deliberate neglect of or damage to a heritage asset the deteriorated state of the heritage asset should not be taken into account in any decision”. It is clear that allowing the growth of trees at the building, from saplings to large specimens, allowing timber wall-heads to remain exposed and doing nothing to forestall areas of collapse are not characteristic of normal levels of maintenance. We therefore argue that deliberate neglect has occurred and para 130 applies.

Secondly, we contest the argument that the loss can be justified as per NPPF para 133 by the delivery of ‘substantial public benefits’. If members look at the site plan of this application they will see that the delivery of the bus station scheme is in no way hinged on the loss or retention of the Ropery. The loss of the Ropery is convenient for the applicant, that is all. We contend that as a listed building in the ownership of the developer Dysart, the Ropery should have been the recipient of profits arising from the bus station scheme being used to bring it back into use, not viewed as an acceptable loss as part of the wider scheme. We contend that the development of the wider site does not in any way rest on the demolition of the Ropery. The case has not been made that the demolition can be justified on ‘substantial benefits’ as these in fact accrue off-site and are peripheral to the Ropery footprint. In short, they will be delivered whether or not the Ropery is lost.

Lastly, the Civic Society is prepared to explore the formation of a Building Preservation Trust to safeguard the building and bring it back into productive use without wholesale demolition. We believe that if this option is allowed then the Ropery could be delivered as a usable building in a matching time-frame to the wider development and could enhance the setting of the scheme and address the concerns over the dilapidation of the Ropery without demolition and delisting. We agree with the applicants Engineer’s Report that an option of conservative repair and like-for-like rebuild is a possible option.

We ask that members consider the above and issue a ‘split decision’ – approving the bus station scheme but refusing lbc for the Ropery. Hexham Civic Society proposes that you ask the developer to cooperate with us and explore the establishment of a Building Preservation Trust that will draw in external funding and bring the building back into use.

Hexham Civic Society Statement

3rd November 2015


IHBC writes:

The Victorian Society (Vic Soc) has published its survey of the most Endangered Victorian and Edwardian Buildings in England and Wales, highlighting the continuing plight of architecturally important buildings throughout the country despite signs of economic recovery, while also calling for the VAT on repairs to privately owned homes to be cut to 5% so that fewer historic buildings fall victim to neglect.

The Victoria Society writes:
The Victorian Society has revealed the Top Ten Most Endangered Victorian and Edwardian Buildings in England and Wales 2014 following a national appeal for nominations. All the buildings listed are in real risk of being lost if action is not taken in the immediate future. The Society is also calling for the VAT on repairs to privately owned homes to be cut to 5% so that fewer historic buildings fall victim to neglect. (more…)

Document1As many of you will know, Hexham Goods Yard Stables, which Hexham Civic Society attempted to save from demolition at the hands of developers Rokeby, Homebase and Network rail is now dismantled,  having been saved from total destruction by Beamish Museum, at the request of HCS.

The story of the Stables, along with a number of other northern historic buildings, will be televised this Thursday evening on BBC1 at 7:30 in the programme ‘Restoring England’s Heritage‘. It’s a regional broadcast so if you aren’t in the North East or Cumbria, you can find the programme online here:

There is a discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #restoringengland so it would be great if you could join in and have your say on these wonderful buildings.

And if you could spread the word among friends, family and colleagues please, that’d be great.

Meerkat Films have produced the documentary, which we understand will feature recent HCS Committee member Pat Caris.

Hexham Stables being dismantled, September 2013

Hexham Stables being dismantled, September 2013

Hexham Civic Society is pleased to announce that the Hexham Goods Yard Stables has been spared the wrecking ball, having been rescued at the last moment by Beamish Museum. As reported in the Hexham Courant, Look North, BBC and on BBC Radio Newcastle, Beamish has stepped in and saved the building. Pat Caris, a member of the HCS, approached Beamish for their help when it became clear that the building was to be demolished.

HCS had fought tooth and nail for retention of the building in 2012-13 when developers Rokeby and Network Rail,  sought to clear the site for their client Homebase. We contended that the building had historic interest and should be considered as part of the curtilage of the Grade II Hexham Station. Unfortunately, Northumberland County Council did not make a determination on whether the building should be treated as ‘curtilage listed’ (requiring listed building consent for demolition) and in February 2013 its planning committee granted conservation area consent for their demolition (Refs 12/02918/CON and 12/02917/FUL ).

This was against the advice of the Council’s own conservation officer and the opposition of English Heritage, the Victorian Society, Hexham Civic Society, Hexham Town Council and many local residents who believed that the building could be re-used as a beneficial part of the scheme.

In a last-ditch bid to save historic stables at Hexham Railway Station from

Hexham Stables August 2012

Hexham Stables August 2012

demolition, Hexham Civic Society asked government watchdogs English Heritage to give final word on whether the buildings should be statutorily listed. Sadly for Hexham Stables, while similar designs by the same North Eastern Railway’s Chief Architect William Bell, have been listed at Monkwearmouth in Sunderland, and at York, English Heritage has declined to list the Hexham buildings. English Heritage determined that the building is not of ‘national importance’, stating that ‘the building has historic interest as one of few surviving stables on the Newcastle to Carlisle railway line, but this is of a local rather than a national nature”. “While of local interest as a late example of a stable constructed for the North East Railway, the building lacks the special interest demanded for national designation and is therefore not recommended for listing.”

The stables, opened in January 1901, are believed to be one of the few NER (North Eastern Railways) stables still standing – alongside the surviving Monkwearmouth stables, also designed by NER Chief Architect William Bell, and protected by Grade II listed status since 2002. HCS maintained that the building could have been retained as a useful part of the site, and used as start-up business/employment space. Hexham Station (1835) itself vies with Edge Hill Station (1836) in Liverpool, as the oldest operational passenger Station in the UK.

Now the Stables building are to be saved for the North East, if not for Hexham.

An HCS spokesperson said “It is a great shame that the building will be lost from Hexham, but it is excellent that they will nonetheless survive at Beamish. We regret that we were not able to open the eyes of either planning officers or Development Control Planning Committee at Northumberland County Council, or the developers Rokeby, Network Rail and Homebase to the possibility of reuse of this unique building on site. We thank Beamish, and in particular its Director Richard Evans and his team, for their efforts in securing the building.

English Heritage recognise the importance of this building, but stated that as other similar examples are already listed, the Hexham stables are not to be granted protection. It is a sad reflection on the eagerness to embrace development at any cost that NCC and its Planning Committee are happy to see this building swept away to make room for a dozen car parking spaces. We feel that in the hands of an imaginative developer, and a Council concerned with the protection of the historic environment, this building could have been usefully retained”.

It is very likely that Hexham Station Stables will remain standing – albeit 20 miles away – when the Homebase shed has itself rusted into history. If you wish to support the work of Hexham Civic Society please join us.