Major development of former Northumberland school site looks set to be approved

A major development on a former Alnwick school site is earmarked for approval, despite scores of objections and concerns it breaches the neighbourhood plan.

By Ben O'Connell
Friday, 24th July 2020, 6:36 pm
Updated Friday, 24th July 2020, 6:36 pm
The former school buildings at the northern end of the site. Picture by Ben O’Connell
The former school buildings at the northern end of the site. Picture by Ben O’Connell

The Northumberland Estates is seeking permission to convert the former Duke’s Middle School into 27 apartments, including the demolition and rebuild of the modern rear extension, plus the creation of a two-storey block of 49 retirement flats and 22 homes at the other end of the site, with a landscaped open area in the middle.

The old school buildings would feature nine one-bedroom, 14 two-bedroom and four three-bedroom apartments, while the specialist elderly living accommodation would consist of 23 one-bedroom and 26 two-bedroom flats.

The adjacent housing would feature five two-bedroom bungalows and 17 two-bedroom homes.

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The site for the proposal

The scheme, which was reduced in size from initial proposals unveiled in August 2018, is recommended to get the go-ahead at the Tuesday, August 4, meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee.

Despite the changes, the application has attracted opposition, with the main concern being the development on the southern end of the site, with the retirement block previously described as ‘a towering eyesore on a beautiful, mature and historic local green space’ by the Duke’s School Residents Neighbourhood Association.

But the planning officer’s report says that despite concerns about massing, it ‘is however considered that the design of the proposal has been well-thought-out, with satisfactory separation distances, with the tree belt around the site also helping to protect amenity’.

Alnwick Town Council has also objected to the application, which was lodged in February last year, due to conflicts with the Alnwick and Denwick Neighbourhood Plan.

This framework, which came into full force in 2017 after passing referendum, designates the southern half of the site as ‘local green space’, where ‘development will not be permitted other than in very special circumstances’; opponents say that none apply in this case.

However, the planning officer considers that there are very special circumstances, due to the 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.

Approval would be subject to the completion of a section 106 legal agreement to secure a £306,000 education contribution (£162,000 primary and £144,000 secondary), £40,200 to support the expansion of the town’s GP surgeries, 11 affordable homes (six for rent – including all five bungalows – and five for sale at discount market value), a coastal mitigation contribution of £58,800, and 2.74 hectares of replacement playing fields, for rugby and football pitches, on farmland next to the Alnwick Juniors pitches at Greensfield.

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