JD Wetherspoon has scrapped its plans to turn Alnwick’s Corn Exchange into a pub, pulling out due to commercial reasons.
However, the company says it is still keen to open in the town, but no other sites are on the table at present.
The decision to call time on the £2million Corn Exchange scheme brings an end to a long, drawn-out saga, which first started in 2012. The story has been a complex one, with issues over land transfers and other wrangles with Northumberland County Council.
Site owner Kevin Thompson described the news as very disappointing but not unexpected, and said that he did not blame Wetherspoon.
Confirming the news of Wetherspoon’s withdrawal from the scheme – which would have created up to 50 jobs – a company spokesman said: “After a lot of consideration regarding the site, Wetherspoon has made a commercial decision not to proceed with the transaction.
“We would like to thank the vendor for working with us and also stress that we are keen to open in the town.”
Wetherspoon was granted planning permission in February 2014 to transform the Corn Exchange into a food and drink premises, but progress subsequently stalled.
In fact, the story dated back longer than this, with the saga starting in 2012, when the firm submitted a scheme for the grade II-listed building.
Things were then delayed when the pub giant decided to amend the plans, leading to a revised scheme, which was lodged in August 2013.
In the winter of 2014, Wetherspoon was granted permission to transform the venue, but in the September of that year, a wrangle over the hours of use of the outdoor area threw the scheme in doubt.
At the start of 2015, the company pulled out after becoming ‘frustrated’ with the way its application was being handled by the county council.
A major grievance revolved around Wetherspoon placing a glass and bin storage area in Roxburgh Place car park, behind the Corn Exchange, in return for resurfacing and marking the car park.
The company claimed that the county council’s highways department opposed this, but no formal decision had been forthcoming. Without a resolution, the firm said at the time that it must terminate its interest in the building.
It prompted the authority to pledge crunch talks with Wetherspoon and in the summer of 2015, we reported that progress was being made over these issues, but there was still work to do, including dealing with a number of transfers of land ownership. At the start of 2016, the firm said that negotiations were ongoing.
In February this year, Wetherspoon said it was waiting to have a contract from the county council which it could sign to move ahead with the development. The local authority claimed everything was in place and was happy to proceed with the necessary land transfers and was waiting for Wetherspoon to progress the project.
In the spring, Wetherspoon said its decision to close numerous UK pubs did not impact on plans for Alnwick. Now, it has pulled out.
Mr Thompson said: “The news is naturally very disappointing, although not unexpected. The town has lost substantial external investment, jobs, a well-known national brand and a proper town-centre car park.
“I don’t blame Wetherspoon. We are in a different economic landscape since the application was approved. I am exploring alternative uses for the building, including adjacent land in Roxburgh Place that the county council uses as a car park.”
Alnwick county and town councillor Gordon Castle was part of the planning committee to approve the scheme in 2014. He said he was extremely disappointed that the company has pulled out. He believes the firm lost interest in the site, but said the county council was not to blame.
A county council spokesman said the authority would work with Wetherspoon again to identify the right opportunity in Alnwick.
In 2013, a Gazette poll showed that 72 per cent of voters supported the scheme.