Former nuclear bunker site in Northumberland to become new £20million hotel, supermarket and parking development
The local authority’s strategic planning committee unanimously approved a hybrid application for the town’s Bunker site, off Alemouth Road, at its meeting on November 5.
The plot is known as the Bunker site due to a large cold store that formerly occupied it, which was converted by the Government into a nuclear bunker in the 1980s. This has since been demolished.
Full planning permission was granted for a 2,177m² Lidl food store plus customer parking, a four-storey, 69-bedroom Travelodge hotel and 250 public parking spaces, alongside outline permission for a further two retail units, totalling 1,600m².
The applicant, Union Property Development, has said that the scheme will result in the creation of 60 permanent jobs across the site and an estimated annual visitor spend figure of £2.16million from users of the Travelodge.
And agent Helen Marks told the meeting that her client was keen to get started in the new year if the green light was given.
The proposals would see the new public car park located in the north-western part of the site that narrows towards the Haugh Lane Industrial Estate.
The new Travelodge would be located centrally within the site and the new Lidl food store to the south-east next to Alemouth Road. The additional retail units would fill in the area between the hotel and food store.
Speaking in support of the application, Hexham Central with Acomb councillor Trevor Cessford said: “Hexham needs parking and it needs extra hotel accommodation. The other things on the site make it viable.”
The application also includes a significant upgrade of the Alemouth Road/Station Road roundabout to provide access to the site, which will cost the applicant around £750,000.
This includes widening the road and creating a fourth arm off the roundabout down into the site, which is around four metres lower than Alemouth Road.
This work will have direct impacts on the existing grade II-listed abutments and retaining walls with sections needing to be demolished and rebuilt; a separate listed building consent application was also unanimously approved at the meeting.
Paul Wharrier, of Hexham Civic Society, called for the old railway tunnels through the embankment to be used to provide pedestrian and cycle links to the train station. Not doing so would be a ‘wasted opportunity’, he said, particularly in light of the council’s climate emergency.
Resident David Preston said he didn’t object to the development, but wanted pedestrian safety at the roundabout to be given more consideration. He claimed he has had four near-misses there while walking since he moved to the town seven months ago.
In relation to the tunnels, planning officers said that it was ‘not a practical solution’ at this time for a number of reasons, but both they and the applicant’s agent said that they were open to exploring it further in the future if land use and ownerships in the area changed.
On pedestrian safety, the committee was assured that all of the works would be subject to technical appraisals going forward, which would include road safety audits, while it was also noted that the roundabout would be improved substantially from what’s there now.
Moving approval, Coun Trevor Thorne said: “I do think this will be a shot in the arm to the economy of Hexham.”
Coun Rupert Gibson added: “Hexham’s my local town. I’m glad this whole scheme hasn’t been held up by a listed wall. I think that’s absolutely the right decision to make.”
Coun Malcolm Robinson claimed that the land looked out of place in Hexham at the moment.
“It’s a pity we don’t have a more innovative design,” he added. “But if that’s how it’s got to be, that’s how it’s got to be.
“When you look down, it will look like part of Hexham rather than a derelict site.”
After the meeting, members of the council’s leadership welcomed the decision on what is a key strategic site in the town.
Coun Cath Homer, the cabinet member for culture, arts, leisure and tourism, who also represents a Hexham ward, said: “The new hotel and car parking will provide much-needed new facilities for visitors to the town, improving the tourism offer, raising the profile of Hexham and encouraging longer stays in the area.
“The new car parking in particular will give a huge boost to Hexham, supporting local services and businesses and alleviating pressure on parking in the town centre.
“The scheme will also mean improvements to the adjoining road and pedestrian networks.”
Coun Richard Wearmouth, the cabinet member for economic development, added: “This scheme represents a very significant economic investment in the town and will bring a long-term vacant site back into use.
“This is one of a number of developments that are in progress in Hexham which will help to revitalise the town.”
The approval is subject to a section 106 legal agreement to secure £10,000 for ecological mitigation and £35,000 for works to reduce flood risk.