Residents’ anger over revised Duke’s School site proposals

Revised plans for the former Duke’s School site in Alnwick have been slammed by objectors as ‘a towering eyesore on a beautiful, mature and historic local green space’.

By Paul Larkin
Friday, 01 March, 2019, 06:00
The former Duke's School in Alnwick

After an outcry from nearby residents when the scheme was first revealed in August last year at a public exhibition, developers Northumberland Estates has scaled down the plans.

It originally sought to transform the listed school building into 29 apartments, demolishing the 1960s extension, outbuilding and caretaker’s bungalow and replacing them with a contemporary extension.

The revised plans for the Duke's School site submitted by Northumberland Estates.

But the most controversial part of the development was on the far side of the school field, which was earmarked for 52 apartments as part of a retirement living scheme by McCarthy and Stone, as well as 33 units, comprising flats and bungalows.

The Estates says that the new proposals, which have now been submitted to Northumberland County Council for planning permission, seek to address many of the concerns raised at the public consultation, particularly the size of the scheme.

The developers claim it has been reduced in size by 14 per cent and the revised application would now see 27 apartments in the old school, while the retirement apartments block ‘has been significantly reduced from three to two storeys, with the outward appearance to complement the Victorian style of the historic building’.

The 33 extra units in the grounds has been reduced to a mix of 22 bungalows and houses, including affordable homes.

But the Duke’s School Residents Neighbourhood Association, which was set up in the wake of the first plans, said that ‘very little had changed’.

Chairman of the group, Mark Hobrough said: “We have little issue with the development of the school building itself provided they adhere to suggested changes made which overlooked the listed properties behind the school. Where we do take issue, is that the development as a whole is still far too big.

“The McCarthy and Stone retirement block, in particular, is going to tower over neighbouring properties, has a footprint about as large as the school building itself, still runs to three storeys plus a roof (so actually four storeys) in places and, as it is built uphill from neighbouring properties, essentially adds significant height equivalent to yet another storey. It’s massive.

“It is not ‘complementary’ to the school building in any way and certainly not the houses it would be adjacent to which have been there longer than the school.

“It does not address the significant traffic and parking problems it will create and it will pile extra pressure on an already over capacity local NHS.

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“In short, the McCarthy and Stone block, in particular, is not required and unwelcomed by the community.”

The Association claims the Estates has run roughshod over the agreed neighbourhood plan for Alnwick, which designates the south side of the plot to ‘local green space’.

Guy Munden, development planner with Northumberland Estates, said: “The public consultation revealed great affection of 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.”

The revised plans will see the school grounds opened up for public access and the green space extended.

Extensive landscaping and open space, tree planting and the creation of a wild flower meadow are planned to enhance the 4.5 acres of open space, all of which will be linked to the town and to Swansfield Park through a network of new footpaths.

But Mr Hobrough said: “There is provision for some ‘sensitive development’ of the site in the neighbourhood plan, but this is on the north side.

“The south side is also home to a mature ecosystem of plants and animals, including bats, owls and hedgehogs that will suffer.

“Northumberland Estates was a large part of this planning committee that sat for four years to determine the neighbourhood plan and as such have had plenty of time to design development within it. We would like this plan upheld - as it has been over other proposed developments recently.”

Comments on the Duke’s School plan can be made at https://publicaccess.northumberland.gov.uk/online-applications/ using ref 19/00500/FUL.