Opponents voice disapproval over plans for housing at trading estate

The site plan of the proposed redevelopment of Willowburn Trading Estate, with Pure Fishing in the red zone.
The site plan of the proposed redevelopment of Willowburn Trading Estate, with Pure Fishing in the red zone.
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Critics have described plans to build homes on part of a town trading estate as a dog’s breakfast and one housing estate too many.

The proposal for Alnwick’s Willowburn Industrial Estate went on show on Monday, as part of a consultation exercise.

WYG is working on a planning application for the site, on behalf of landowners Northumberland County Council, Northern Commercial Properties and the Harris & Sheldon Group Limited.

The proposal is for up to approximately 124 new homes incorporating a mix of dwelling types. An element of affordable housing will be provided, albeit the final number and tenure will be subject to further discussions with the county council and viability testing.

The master-plan shows that a number of businesses, including Pure Fishing – which bought the world-famous Hardy and Greys brands in 2013 – are within the proposed building zone.

The fishing firm, which recently signed a five-year lease at the site with landlords Harris & Sheldon, has issued a statement saying it is committed to Alnwick and the local community in the long term.

Other units at the site, including Rickerby Ltd and Lion House, are outside of the proposed development boundary.

As part of the core strategy of the county’s local plan, the trading estate, on South Road, is in line to be de-allocated for continued employment use due to high vacancy rates and the poor condition of existing premises. The planning document is out for consultation until Wednesday.

An outline planning application for the housing scheme is due to be submitted in the coming months and if it wins approval, the aim is to start on the site in 2018. Work would take a phased approach, to ‘allow for existing businesses to be relocated’.

However, numerous people spoke out against the plans during Monday’s consultation event, raising concerns about losing the site for employment use and the imbalance between part-residential and part-industrial. There was frustration that parts of the industrial estate have received little-to-no investment over the years, while other sites in the area have been created/developed. There was also concern at the proposal to de-allocate the site for employment use, when the draft and emerging Alnwick and Denwick Neighbourhood Plan favours proposals for re-using and redeveloping existing sites to support and create jobs, adding that housing and retail will not be permitted at these locations.

Alnwick Mayor Alan Symmonds said: “It is one housing estate too many. I listened to some of the people with businesses within the boundary and they are obviously very concerned. There is an imbalance and I believe the exit from the site is unsuitable for a housing estate.

“The neighbourhood plan and the view of the town council is that Alnwick needs more investment in jobs. The sort of jobs that these industrial estates encourage are family businesses. This would be a good opportunity to build these sort of units here.”

Peter Biggers, who worked on the neighbourhood plan, shared this frustration. He said: “We spent nearly five years on the plan which specifically says that we wanted to see investment at this site as employment land. Then, out of the blue, the county council comes forward with this proposal to de-allocate it.”

One resident, who did not want to be named, added: “Who will buy houses in the middle of a trading estate? It is a dog’s breakfast. There are already a number of housing sites in Alnwick.”

Another, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It won’t work – it needs to be all or nothing. I worked in Morpeth on a site which was a mix of business and residential and it didn’t work.”

Trying to clarify Pure Fishing’s position, Grant Ottignon-Harris, who is managing director UK, Continental Europe & South Africa, said: “Pure Fishing recently signed a new five-year lease on the Willowburn property, which ties the business into the site for that period, with the option of extending it for a further five years.

“We have continued to invest significantly into the site, in particular the recent retail store refurbishment, along with the general improvements throughout the whole building, including the new purpose-built showroom.

“During the last three years we have significantly increased our people resource in Alnwick across all areas of the business and will continue to do so as we develop the business further. All of this highlights that we are committed to Alnwick and the local community for the long term.”