Residents to fight school plans

The proposals to redevelop the former Duke's Middle School site, in Alnwick. The school building is to the bottom left of the picture. The retirement homes and flats and bungalows are opposite.
The proposals to redevelop the former Duke's Middle School site, in Alnwick. The school building is to the bottom left of the picture. The retirement homes and flats and bungalows are opposite.

A residents’ association has been formed to fight against proposals to build homes at a former Alnwick school.

Concerned locals have drawn battle lines in opposition to Northumberland Estates’ plans to redevelop the Duke’s Middle School, which closed in the summer of 2017.

The scheme – unveiled at a public exhibition last month – includes converting the listed building part of the school into 29 apartments.

The development would see the demolition of the 1960s extension, outbuilding and caretaker’s bungalow, replaced with a contemporary extension which would be ‘complementary’ to the listed building.

On the opposite side of the school field, 52 apartments would be built as part of a retirement living scheme by McCarthy &Stone, as well as 33 units, comprising flats and bungalows. The proposals also feature four acres of publicly-accessible open-green space, with footpath links.

The Estates says that access improvements would be made from The Avenue – by Alnwick police station and runs up to Swansfield Park Primary School – while a new vehicular access point would be created from Swansfield Park Road.

The proposals are at the pre-planning-application stage, so could change before a formal scheme is submitted to the county council, which is expected to be soon.

Nethertheless, objectors are keen to make their feelings heard at the earliest opportunity and The Duke’s School Neighbourhood Residents Association has been formed.

The strength of feeling against the plans was demonstrated on Monday, when residents packed into a meeting at the Mechanics’ Institute to raise wide-ranging concerns.

Mark Hobrough, from the association, said: “Our aim is to represent the views of the community surrounding the school building and playing fields pertaining to any proposed development by Northumberland Estates/McCarthy & Stone or any other party.

“We had around 100 concerned residents at the meeting and the mood was one of opposition to any development on the green space/playing field, but with a recognition that the school building itself was in need of renovation, provided that it was done sympathetically and on a scale that would not intrude on any neighbouring properties.

“We had a large sign up of members on the night, to the point that we ran out of membership application forms. We can email information and forms to anyone who is interested in joining. Contact us at DukesSchoolNeighbours@gmail.com”

Objections at the meeting included concerns about wildlife, traffic, being in contrary to parts of the Alnwick and Denwick Neighbourhood Plan, scale and massing of the development, impact on local amenities and services and being out of keeping with the heritage asset of the school.

One objector described the site as ‘a space of beauty and the green lung of Alnwick’, while another was concerned about the impact of light pollution in the area following development, adding that it is currently a ‘mini dark-sky park in the centre of town’.

Colin Barnes, of the Estates, said: “I think it is widely recognised that the site will need to be sensitively developed and we have had good support for elderly accommodation.

“Our understanding is that the main concerns relate to traffic and the scale of development, particularly the massing of the retirement apartments.

“The Neighbourhood Plan accepts that part of the land should be developed and part remain open space. Our intention is to do that in a way which best respects the listed school building.

“We want to avoid a situation where the buildings/site become derelict and think we can strike the right balance.”