£7.9million hotel approved for site next to Alnwick Castle - despite concerns
The Northumberland Estates’ 47-room proposal, which includes the former buildings on Bailiffgate used by the Duchess’s Community High School, was approved by the North Northumberland Local Area Council on Thursday, January 21.
Members voted by six to two, with two abstentions, to support the scheme, as well as to grant listed building consent, in line with the recommendation from county council planning officers.
The Estates already has an operator lined up, with the team from well-established boutique hotel The Cookie Jar looking to take on its running once complete.
The application stated that it would need a total of 45 to 50 staff – likely a mix of 20 full-time and 30 part-time roles (with a minimum of 10 hours per week for part-time staff).
Numbers 2-8 Bailiffgate will be converted to form 14 hotel suites/apartments, while some buildings to the rear will be demolished to allow the construction of a new four-storey block to the rear, with a terraced frontage along The Peth, to provide another 33 rooms, which would be connected to the existing buildings by a glazed link.
The bid also includes the refurbishment of the former school gym building to create a series of new fitness studios.
Concerns raised over project
A written statement from Alnwick Town Council, which was read out at the virtual meeting, reiterated that it welcomes the principle of a hotel to bring this site back into use and the ‘significant benefits’ it will bring, but its objection ‘still stands for four substantive reasons’.
The first is massing, with the town council saying the building is too large for this site, on the historic northern entrance into Alnwick.
‘One storey less would be far less intrusive’, it said, highlighting the concerns of the county council’s own building conservation team, which concluded the proposals would result in ‘less than substantial harm’.
The other three issues were parking, access and the lack of pedestrian crossings for guests going over the road to Alnwick Castle, which was described as a ‘missed opportunity’.
The meeting did hear, however, that a traffic regulation order relating to the proposed exit onto Walkergate will be part of a legal agreement (the entrance will be from The Peth), while an additional condition was added so that the hotel must provide information to guests and other users about parking in the area.
The submission from the Estates said that the ‘high-quality design’ means that Historic England has no objections. ‘Unless urgent action is taken, the building will suffer further loss of features of historic interest and value’, it added.
It was also claimed that the new-build element has to be the size that it is to provide enough rooms for the hotel to be able to operate commercially and therefore bring the Bailiffgate buildings back into use.
There was plenty of discussion by the committee, but a majority was persuaded that the benefits outweighed any harm, particularly given the lack of objections from the council’s highways team and Historic England.
The chairman, Cllr Trevor Thorne, said: “The fact the modern extension is on a slightly sloping site helps it hide behind the front elevation on Bailiffgate. It’s four storeys, but the fact that one nips into the hillside helps it sit behind the host building.”
Beyond the town council’s opposition, just two residents had objected despite 477 neighbours being notified by letter.
Developer highlights benefits to area
Following the decision, Guy Munden, development planner with the Estates, said: “This is a great project for Alnwick, one which will bring tourists directly into the town centre and, at the same time, breathe new life into this historic site.
“The Bailiffgate buildings have been empty since the Duchess’s High School left for their new premises back in 2016. This project seeks to create the extra visitor accommodation the area has been shown to need as well as bringing new jobs to the town.
“With more visitors looking to come to Northumberland even in the winter months, the hotel should bring a welcome boost to the town’s tourism trade. Ideally located just a short walk from both the Castle and the town centre, visitors will be able to take advantage of all Alnwick’s many amenities from shops and cafés to pubs, museums and other tourist attractions such as Barter Books.
“The hotel is also a huge construction project, and we are keen to involve as many local business and tradesmen as possible during the building phase, hopefully providing a much-needed boost to employment in the area at this very difficult time.”