A fountain monument is set to return to the centre of Wooler more than 45 years after the original was demolished.
However, the five-metre-high structure, which was approved at Tuesday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s planning and rights of way committee, will not be a working fountain, merely a memorial to the original.
It had been recommended for approval by the planning officer, but some councillors wanted to go for a site visit and take a closer look before making a decision.
Coun Andrew Tebbutt said: “It’s a very big decision we are being asked to make.” Coun Glen Sanderson described it as ‘a very contentious issue’.
But not all committee members agreed and the application was eventually approved by seven votes to none, with five abstentions.
Coun Jeff Gobin pointed out that there had only been one objection lodged against the application, adding: “I think we are calling for site visits far too often.”
Coun Paul Kelly too felt that site visits were the ‘current rage’, despite an over-reliance on site visits being among the issues sparking the criticism, and subsequent review, of the county’s planning system last year.
Earlier in the meeting, members heard from ward member for Wooler, Coun Anthony Murray, who was opposed to the proposals.
He said: “The original fountain was built in the more leisurely time of horse and cart. The traffic situation in the Market Place today is very different. As well as traffic converging from four different points, we have a general store in the former Wheatsheaf Hotel with a busy car park.
“I’m against the structure because I believe it will not be in keeping with the town as we know it today. There’s no harm in remembering the past, but we must look to the future.”
Yvette Hope, one of the proponents of the scheme, spoke in favour of the monument, highlighting the support demonstrated by the community fund-raising efforts as well as on social media.
The original fountain, located slightly to the south, was erected in 1879 as a tribute to William Wightman, who brought a proper water supply to Wooler in the late 1850s.
In the severe winter of 1966, cracks appeared in the pillars and Glendale Council made inquiries as to who owned the fountain.
On discovering that no one did, they decided, in 1970, to have it demolished so that the road could be widened.
A design and access statement submitted with the application states: ‘It is proposed that the fountain be rebuilt in sandstone as was the original, following the original design as much as possible.
‘The original dedication to William Wightman will be reinstated to the fountain.
‘However, this will be a fountain in name only, as there will be no water supply to the monument.
‘It is proposed to add approximately four wooden park benches round the fountain which will be dedicated to past worthies of Wooler, the names to be decided by the people of Wooler’.
A condition was added that the flowering cherry trees on the site must be moved to another public location.
The community initiative dates back to early 2014 when residents started questioning the whereabouts of the fountain after old photos were posted on the Wooler and district memories for all Facebook page.