Objectors call for plans to redevelop Duke's School site in Alnwick to be rejected

Objectors claim that approving a major overhaul of the former Duke’s School site in Alnwick next week ‘will set a dangerous precedent’.

By Ben O'Connell
Tuesday, 28th July 2020, 6:00 am

But the Duke’s School Neighbourhood Residents Association (DSNRA), which was set up to oppose the plans after they were first unveiled in August 2018, has said it is ‘surprised and hugely disappointed’ by the recommendation, given the application ‘directly contradicts’ the Alnwick and Denwick Neighbourhood Plan (ADNP).

The scheme would feature the conversion of the Grade II-listed school buildings into 27 apartments plus the construction of 22 houses and bungalows, and a two-storey block of 49 retirement flats at the other end of the site, with a landscaped open area in the middle.

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Looking towards the former Duke’s Middle School site in Alnwick from the north.

More than 60 objections have been lodged, including from Alnwick Town Council, in large part because the ADNP designates the southern half of the site as ‘local green space’, where ‘development will not be permitted other than in very special circumstances’.

In his report, the planning officer concludes that there are very special circumstances in this case, due to the proposals, described as a ‘a holistically master-planned scheme’, allowing the long-term use of the grade II-listed school buildings, the full replacement of the playing fields elsewhere in Alnwick, the provision of flats for the elderly and affordable homes, and part of the site becoming open space, given that it is not accessible at the moment.

However, in a statement, the DSNRA said: ‘This mature area is designated for protection as one of the last undeveloped green spaces in central Alnwick.

‘Northumberland Estates were key members of the group which formulated and agreed this neighbourhood plan. Now they appear to think they can simply disregard it.

‘They were in favour of endorsing some ‘sensitive development on the north side of the field’ and gifting some land to the public. In reality, they have proposed a towering eyesore of a retirement block, situated on the protected green space on the south side, and with a larger footprint than the school building itself.

‘This in no way reflects the Neighbourhood Plan so many people worked so hard to formulate and pass.

‘If the strategic planning committee accepts this recommendation, they will be setting a dangerous precedent. If successful, it would render all neighbourhood plans made in Northumberland totally meaningless as once a precedent like this is set, there is clear guidance that it can be overturned by a developer.

‘As a community, we are now reliant on the good sense and fairness of the strategic planning committee.

‘We hope that they will see fit to refuse the application in its current form and that they will ask Northumberland Estates to come forward with a plan which better respects the details and intentions of our neighbourhood plan.’

The current scheme has already been amended from the original proposals, with a reduction in overall size and the retirement flats block dropping from three to two storeys.

Upon its submission last year, Guy Munden, development planner with the Estates, said: “The public consultation revealed great affection for the Duke’s school and real desire by people in the town to see the site renovated and the buildings brought back to life.

“Another high priority was the provision of more green space for town residents to enjoy. We believe this scheme can deliver both.

“Statistics prove an overwhelming need for retirement living accommodation in the town and area, with existing facilities full to capacity and with extensive waiting lists.”

During the examination hearings for the Northumberland Local Plan last October, the Estates highlighted a conflict in relation to the Duke’s site, which the Government-appointed planning inspector, Susan Heywood, said ‘must be resolved’.

While the ADNP earmarks the southern half as ‘local green space’, the county-wide plan, which is not yet adopted as its examination continues, designates the northern half of the site as a ‘protected open space’.

Mr Munden said that the two frameworks taken together would mean that ‘none of the site is available for development’, contrary to the intentions of the neighbourhood plan.

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