Dilapidated former community centre in Berwick is set for new lease of life after council approval

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A Georgian townhouse and Victorian school buildings on a plot of land in the Berwick Conservation Area are set for a complete overhaul despite some concerns over the bid.

Berwick Youth Project is planning to create nine new flats as well as a new house and garage block on the site of the town’s former community centre and grammar school on Palace Street East.

The proposals include the renovation and conversion of the former Georgian Townhouse and associated Victorian school buildings to “habitable accomodation”, while two prefab outbuildings would be removed to build a new dwelling and garage block.

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The flats would consist of eight supported accommodation units and a caretaker’s flat, while the garage block would be operated by the youth project for “community use in line with the charity’s objectives”.

Berwick Youth Project acquired the former community centre on Palace Street East two years ago.Berwick Youth Project acquired the former community centre on Palace Street East two years ago.
Berwick Youth Project acquired the former community centre on Palace Street East two years ago.

However, some neighbours are unhappy with aspects of the plans, and the council received 25 letters of objection.

The buildings have been abandoned for some time and the site has fallen into neglect. The youth project hope to utilise it, but need the financial boost from developing the flats to afford the significant costs.

John Bell, manager of the youth project, said the site had been “infested with pigeons” and the charity was “trying to salvage a desperate situation”.

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Speaking at the North Northumberland Local Area Committee meeting on Thursday, resident Eileen Conway outlined why people had objected.

She said: “I live on the street and I am speaking for the 97 per cent of neighbours notified and for the very many other people who are uneasy about these plans.

“We look forward to the regeneration and reuse of the Berwick Grammar School, but we do have very strong concerns about over-development on the site.

“The development would tower over neighbouring properties, blocking out light and affecting privacy.”

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However, Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council did not object and the application, recommended for approval by council officers, was approved.

Coun Trevor Thorne said: “I think this is the right decision to approve. To preserve and conserve this fine building, the Georgian old grammar school, we need a plan and as part of that plan, there is some new building required as well.

“It has been neglected for a long, long time. It’s one of the nicest buildings in Berwick and it does need conserving and protecting.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Bell said: “It’s been a long time in the making, but now we can crack on with working up a detailed specification and getting it out to tender.

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“There was a lengthy debate about our plans to remove two huts in the rear yard, but I think in this case a decent regeneration project surpassed a rather dubious conservation case.

“The tender process will inform us of costs and right now we know we’ll still have fundraising to do before we can start on site.”

Julian Smart, one of the objectors, said after the meeting: “As residents who love Berwick’s unique heritage, we are extremely disappointed that this shameful plan has been passed.

“The county’s Built Heritage Officer admits that ‘the development would diminish the site’s open character that enhances the setting of the ramparts and views along the promenade’, and advice from Historic England, the Victorian Society and the 20th Century Society has been tossed aside.

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“While we will be very glad to see the grammar school renovated at last, the applicant has forced the council’s hand by bundling grotesque new build elements with the main building renovation.

“Consequently, a World War I army hut and a rare 1908 corrugated iron classroom will probably be destroyed when they could be repurposed into storage and workshops. As one councillor pointed out, they would have been enjoyed by the project’s young clients.

“Instead, a two-storey garage will tower over Ness Street and The Avenue, together with a house to fund the garage, interrupting the much-loved views from the Town Walls – a globally important scheduled monument.

“This disgraceful assault on an extremely sensitive area of the Town Walls is one that all of us will regret when the full impact on the character of the conservation area is felt. In violation of national and local planning policy, those responsible for this cultural vandalism can no longer claim with a straight face to be champions of conservation and sustainability.

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“The one chink of hope is that the council has asked the applicant to consider reusing the threatened classrooms. We are happy to help the Youth Project achieve this if the current new build plan is dropped.

“We welcome the stipulation that the main building renovation should be completed before any new builds are started.”