Battle lines have been drawn by objectors to fight £1.3million plans to transform a derelict building into a major new pub.
JD Wetherspoon has lodged a full planning application with Northumberland County Council to convert Alnwick’s Corn Exchange into a pub, creating around 40 new jobs.
The ambitious project aims to turn the Grade II-listed building, which has stood empty for around two decades, into a venue capable of catering for more than 400 customers.
But Alnwick Chamber of Trade (ACT) has said it will fight the plans, voicing ‘huge concerns’, including fears it will have a ‘major impact’ on the town centre.
Nearby residents to the site, which has access from Bondgate Within and Roxbro Place, have drawn up a petition to oppose the overhaul.
However, owner of the Corn Exchange, Kevin Thompson, has said the building needs a use to bring it back to life and the current plan is the ‘only option on the table’ at present.
He added that because of its shape and form, and as it is listed, the premises has ‘very limited uses’, making an alternative solution, such as turning it into residential development, difficult.
A Wetherspoon spokesman has said the company would happily meet residents to discuss any concerns.
ACT has raised concerns on a number of grounds, including noise disturbance to nearby homes and health and safety issues regarding the steps leading to the building, and claims it is the wrong site for a major player in the industry to go into.
Member John Hope, who owns the town’s Tower Restaurant, said: “We are not afraid of competition, this is not what it is about. This is about it being the wrong site for a major player in the industry, such as JD Wetherspoon.”
He added: “If they were coming to the town centre, like where Woolworths was, I wouldn’t be complaining, but where they are going will take business away from the town centre and have a major impact on the town.
“The revenue the council will gain, as well as the jobs that are gained, will be lost to the town centre.”
Mr Hope said there is no easy access to the town centre, adding: “The high percentage of people who will go to Wetherspoon’s will come by car, park in Roxbro Place and leave without going to the town centre.
“Then you have got the steps from the Corn Exchange to the town centre. They are unsafe. The elderly can’t use them, nor can people who are under the influence.”
Mr Hope said that when he worked in Newcastle, there were ‘countless injuries as well as manslaughter and murder charges on steps outside licensed premises’.
ACT chairman Carlo Biagioni acknowledged the need ‘to improve the Roxbro car park and the Corn Exchange’ but said the group has written to the county council to register its objections.
Mr Biagioni is concerned about noise disturbance to nearby residents, who he said were ‘up in arms’ over the plans.
The proposals state that there will be a new external drinking area and hours of trading listed are Mondays to Fridays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, 7am to 12.30am, and Saturdays, 7am to 1.30am.
Mr Biagioni said he also had concerns about drainage.
Alnwick Town Council’s planning committee has registered its support but with reservations, including safety issues with the steps and disturbance to nearby residents.
Owner of the site, Mr Thompson, said: “People should bear in mind that we are talking about a large derelict building whose use for the majority of the last century was as an entertainment centre with a drinks licence.
“The fact that it has been empty for a quarter of a century should surely give a hint to people as to how difficult it is to find an alternative use other than what is being proposed, not for the want of trying. The view of the Chamber of Trade is disappointing to say the least.”
The application is going through the planning process. A committee date is yet to be set.