Future of Wetherspoon’s plans in Alnwick still hangs in balance

Corn Exchange, Alnwick
Corn Exchange, Alnwick

The future of JD Wetherspoon opening in Alnwick is still hanging in the balance, with crucial talks between the pub giant and Northumberland County Council yet to take place.

Last week, we reported that the company had pulled out of £2million plans to transform the Grade II-listed Corn Exchange after becoming frustrated with the way the authority was handling its application.

A major grievance resolves around Wetherspoon siting a glass and bin storage area in Roxburgh Place car park, behind the derelict building, in return for fully resurfacing and properly marking the car park.

However, the company understands that the county council’s highways department has opposed this, but no formal decision had been forthcoming. Without a resolution, the firm said it must terminate its interest in the Corn Exchange.

The bombshell prompted the authority to pledge crunch talks with Wetherspoon in a last-ditch bid to pull the plans back from the brink. But earlier this week, the company said that these discussions are yet to happen and has dug its heels in about its position.

On Monday, Simon Barratt, senior manager from Wetherspoon, said: “We have heard from a member of the planning department to say someone from the department will be in touch to sort out the issues, but not heard anything since.

“Wetherspoon will not attend a meeting until the county council sets out the issues they have (in writing) with the information we provided them last year. That has been communicated to the vendor and the council.”

The dilapidated Corn Exchange has sat empty for more than two decades and owner Kevin Thompson fears that the consequences of the development not going ahead would have a significant impact on the building and the surrounding area.

He has called on the county council to make progress quickly. He said: “Until Wetherspoon know what the issues preventing them from placing the bin store in that position really are, then it makes it impossible for anyone to move forwards. I fear if this falls into the long grass again, then the development will simply die.”

Last week, Alnwick county councillors Gordon Castle and Heather Cairns revealed their frustration at the news, but told the Gazette that they believed the wrangle could be resolved. On Tuesday, Coun Castle reiterated that the issue needs to be sorted quickly.

A county council spokeswoman said: “A member from planning has been in contact with the agent who is acting on behalf of Wetherspoons , they are in the throes of organising a meeting and Northumberland have agreed to provide further clarification in advance of the meeting on the matters which need to be discussed.”

Wetherspoon was granted permission in February 2014, a decision that was generally welcomed in the town. The company says that it would be investing more than £2million in the Corn Exchange and that the development would create approximately 40 to 50 jobs.

COLLAPSE OF PLANS ‘A DISGRACE’

The shock announcement that the company has pulled out of plans to transform the Corn Exchange has reopened debate about the need for a Wetherspoon in Alnwick and what impact it would have on the town.

Social media was flooded with comments in the wake of our front-page story last week, with some readers desperate for the company to open a premises in the town, while others were less favourable.

Facebook users in support of the scheme believed it would rejuvenate Alnwick and pointed to the creation of jobs and the need to bring the empty Corn Exchange back into use.

North Farm Cottages wrote: “We would love a Wetherspoon’s in Alnwick. Harrogate, Ripon, Thirsk, Kendal, Morpeth all have Wetherspoon’s. Why not Alnwick? They rejuvenate amazing old buildings with vast amounts of money that only a company like Wetherspoon’s could justify. They are more than just a pub chain Mr Wetherspoon’s deserves a medal. We are keeping our fingers crossed for them.”

Robert Dobson added: “The pub trade in Alnwick is hardly jumping like it used to be. It was good news that Wetherspoon’s were interested in opening. It might just perk things up.”

Some readers called on the county council to resolve the issue with Wetherspoon.

Alnwick’s Deputy Mayor Sue Allcroft wrote: “I can only hope that common sense asserts itself and what appears to be a minor problem is resolved. To lose the chance of 50 jobs in Alnwick and the sympathetic refurbishment of this building is an appalling waste. Would we really like this derelict building to moulder on until it falls down, or have a thriving business, and a fully paved car park which can only benefit the town? The good thing about Wetherspoon’s is that anyone from young mums with kids, to retired grannies, to groups of friends can go there for coffee, a drink or a meal without feeling out of place.”

Lee Collis added: “Disgusting that bad organisation and poor communication by Northumberland County Council has lead to them pulling out. How hard can it be for different departments to talk to each other? It’s a disgrace they can even call that wasteland a car park, it’s potholed, litter covered mess of a place.”

However, other readers believed that the news was a blessing, fearing that Wetherspoon would hit other traders in the town hard.

Adrian Don said: “Great news - for the other pubs, restaurants and cafes in the town, all of which would have suffered. Wetherspoon’s that have opened in other market towns have crucified existing businesses. Just have a look at what’s happened to Morpeth.”

Joan Ford added: “I personally think the building could be used for much better things. We have enough pubs and cafes/restaurants in Alnwick. They would all suffer if Wetherspoon’s goes ahead. Why not have an indoor market for local crafts like the Priory in Morpeth. We need to think outside the box and not go with the easiest option.”

Read more comments on the Gazette’s Facebook page.

In 2012, after Wetherspoon revealed it wanted to open a pub in Alnwick, a Gazette poll revealed that 72 per cent of voters were in favour of the scheme.