A £1.3million plan for JD Wetherspoon to open a pub in Alnwick, creating around 40 jobs, has been recommended for approval by planning officers.
The application, for the town’s derelict Corn Exchange, will go in front of councillors at next Thursday’s north area planning committee meeting.
If approved, the converted building, which has been empty for two decades, will have a bar and customer area downstairs, toilets upstairs and a beer garden.
A report which has been prepared for members of the committee by planning officers states: ‘The Corn Exchange is a significant building which occupies a prominent site within the town centre, but has stood empty and disused for some time.
‘The principle of appropriate renovations, alterations and change of land use to secure the future of the building is accepted and supported.
‘Subject to conditions relating to the works the proposal is considered to be an acceptable way to secure the protection and future use of this listed structure.
‘The proposal is considered to enhance both the listed building and the conservation area, without adversely impacting the neighbouring listed structures or street scene.
‘The proposal is not considered to have an adverse impact on the town centre, highways or local ecology, subject to conditions.
‘It is recognised that the site is in close proximity to residential properties and the proposal will impact on them however this impact can be mitigated by planning condition and other legislation and public benefits of the proposal are considered to outweigh the adverse impact.
‘Development accords with relevant policies and is therefore recommended for approval.’
The scheme has attracted some objections though.
Of the 69 neighbours notified, five letters against have been received.
Concerns include issues of noise and smell, safety of the steps leading from the building to the town centre, littering and trespassing, the beer garden and the impact on other public houses.
Public protection has also raised an objection due to lack of information on noise and odour. It states that the submission of the relevant assessments is required.
Alnwick Town Council is in support of the proposals, but has raised a number of reservations.
These include whether an external drinking area is needed, due to potential disturbance to nearby residents, and safety issues regarding the steps to the town centre.
The company is proposing to open Monday to Friday and Sunday, 7am to 12.30am, and Saturday, 7am to 1.30am.
One of the conditions proposed by officers is that no drinks can be taken into the beer garden, smoking shelter or smoking area between 10pm and 8am, to avoid disturbance to nearby residents.
Pressure for councillors to approve the scheme has been mounting from Gazette readers.
At the end of 2012, we ran a poll to gauge the views of the town and area’s residents.
Overall, 993 people voted online and via the paper, and 72 per cent (718) said yes to wanting the pub in the Corn Exchange. Just 275 people said no.
And now, Northumberland resident Simon Jobson has started an online petition urging approval of the scheme.
The document will be presented to the north area planning committee next week.
More than 400 people have signed up in support so far.
Wetherspoon’s bid to convert the former cinema into a pub has been a long-running saga, with the company originally submitting an application in October 2012.
The following month, members of Alnwick Chamber of Trade raised concerns about the scheme, fearing it would have a major impact on the town centre.
This prompted a backlash, particularly online on Facebook.
But in January last year, we reported that there would be a delay as the company decided to amend its proposals.
A Wetherspoon spokesman said that the company doesn’t tend to comment on an application before it goes in front of a planning committee but reiterated the firm’s desire to open a pub on the site, adding that it would be a great asset to the town.
The meeting takes place in Alnwick’s council chamber, on Clayport Street, at 6pm.