Image © Fred Jenks http://www.jabezcorner.com/jbz/jbz-rope.html

A Ropery Interior – Image © Fred Jenks http://www.jabezcorner.com/jbz/jbz-rope.html

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

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Following the exhibition 11/07/14 by developers Dysart and Northumberland County Council for the proposed relocation of the present bus station to Loosing Hill, we attach two feedback forms for your information. Both can be downloaded from the links below and written on and posted or re-scanned as you wish. The Dysart form can be emailed to admin@nicholsonnairn.co.uk and the NCC form should be sent to ask@northumberland.gov.uk for the attention of the ‘Strategic Transport Team’. The NCC deadline for comment is believed to be Friday 25th July.

Hexham Civic Society is considering its formal response to the proposals and if you are an HCS member, please let us know your view.

Feedback Form NCC Bus Station Loosing Hill Proposal

Feedback Form Dysart Bus Station Site Proposal

Despite a commitment made to Hexham Town Council on Monday 3rd of February that the NCC Policy Board would commit to full public consultation on options for bus station provision in Hexham, NCC Councillors appear to have ruled out retention on the current site:

http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/northumberland-county-council-votes-hexham-6698390

Based on supposed ‘health and safety concerns’ dating from a 2006 report by Council Officers the present site is apparently unable to be retained. This is in direct opposition to the 2013 Hexham Bus Station petition in which 2,500 signatories asked for retention on the present site and in opposition to NCC portfolio holder Councillor Swithenbank’s promises to Hexham residents and Town Councillors made only last Monday.

Following the Policy board meeting on Tuesday 11th NCC released a statement saying: “We know that the provision of bus services is a very important issue for the residents of Hexham and surrounding areas.

“However the current bus station does not meet modern safety requirements, and we also have to consider the long-term viability and vitality of the town centre”.

Hexham residents, who were joined in their opposition to the scheme by MP Guy Opperman, might justifiably feel aggrieved that their stated preference for retention on the existing site has been wholly ignored. The concerns of Hexham Town Council, which had asked for a set of options, including retention of the existing site have clearly been swept aside in NCCs eagerness to dispose of the site to its preferred partner Dysart, who own the adjacent derelict properties.

We await with interest the proposed ‘consultation’ exercise, which apparently omits the one option consistently called for by Hexham residents.