Historic Sir William Fox Hotel in Westoe Village to become apartments after inspector's ruling
A historic hotel in South Tyneside is set to be transformed into apartments following a ruling by a government-appointed planning inspector.
The Sir William Fox Hotel in Westoe was the birthplace of the real-life Sir William Fox, who went on to become Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Despite recommendations from council planning officers to approve the scheme at a meeting in November 2020, councillors could not come to a decision.
Instead they agreed to defer rulings on the change of use and listed building consent applications to a future meeting to allow more time to inspect plans and gather information.
In response the applicant lodged appeals on the grounds of ‘non-determination’ as the council did not come to a decision on the applications within a prescribed time period.
As a result, the matter was sent to the Planning Inspectorate with an inspector appointed to rule on the application.
In a decision notice published on October 25 2021, planning inspector John Dowsett allowed the appeals meaning the conversion to seven apartments can go ahead.
According to the decision report, had the council been in a position to make a decision on the applications, it would have refused planning permission and listed building consent.
This would have been on grounds relating to the “adverse effect of the proposed works on the listed building and on the character and appearance of the Westoe Conservation Area.”
In his conclusions, the planning inspector said the scheme would “preserve the special architectural and historic interest of the Grade II-listed building, the setting of the nearby listed buildings and the character and appearance of the Westoe Conservation Area.”
The decision report reads: “Taking the proposal as a whole, the proposed works would result [in] some small scale harm to the significance and historic interest of the building due to the loss of historic fabric and further erosion of legibility of the historic floor plan resulting from creating new openings in the surviving historic internal walls.
“However, this must be seen in the context that the evidence indicates that the interior layout of the building was substantially altered prior to it being listed.
“Consequently, this harm would be less than substantial but, nonetheless, of considerable importance and weight.”
While a small amount of additional historic fabric would be lost, the report added, this would be “offset” by the improvements to the external appearance of the building and the outside areas that would result from the works.
The planning inspector’s report goes on to say: “There is no compelling evidence before me that the appeal proposal would lead to an oversupply of flats in the area.
“The proposal would not result in substantive or fundamental changes to the exterior of the building to facilitate this change of use and the current hotel use will have resulted in greater numbers of pedestrian and vehicle movements than would be associated with a single dwelling house.
“Although the appeal building is within the setting of several nearby listed buildings and within a conservation area, the proposed external works are minor in nature and would, overall, result in a small-scale visual improvement to the surrounding area.
“Therefore, the appeal proposals would not cause harm to the character and appearance of the conservation area or the setting of the nearby listed buildings.”
The planning inspector also concluded that the proposals would have “no adverse effects” on nearby nature sites.
While noting concerns being raised about the application setting a precedent, the planning inspector said that “a generalised concern of a precedent being set is not, of itself, a reason to withhold permission or consent.”
Approved plans include seven apartments, an extension to the rear elevation, external alterations, window replacement works, car parking and the installation of cycle stands and refuse storage.
To “preserve the architectural and historic interest” of the listed building, the planning inspector added several conditions to the development.
This included details of proposed new windows, the painting or repair of existing windows and wider utilities and fire safety works being submitted for approval.
Although applications for costs against South Tyneside Council were made by the appellant, they were refused by the planning inspector.