Plans to demolish Whitburn Lodge to build houses delayed again over environmental concerns

Plans to demolish a fire-damaged former pub to make way for housing have been put on hold following councillors’ concerns about sewage and water pollution.
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South Tyneside Council’s Planning Committee, at a meeting this week, voted unanimously to defer making a decision on the future of the Whitburn Lodge site, off Mill Lane (A183).

Since closing its doors in 2012, the derelict site has been the target of break-ins and deliberate fires, including a blaze on New Year’s Day, 2023, which destroyed sections of the roof and caused extensive damage inside.

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Last year, national housebuilder Lovell Partnerships announced it had bought the building and associated land, and soon after submitted plans to build 32 homes at the site.

The application had been due to go before the council’s Planning Committee for a decision on February 12, 2024, but was withdrawn from the agenda due to an “administrative issue”.

Plans to demolish the Whitburn Lodge have been delayed again.Plans to demolish the Whitburn Lodge have been delayed again.
Plans to demolish the Whitburn Lodge have been delayed again.

The planning hearing was rescheduled to March 11, 2024, with council planning officers again recommending the housing scheme for approval.

Councillors heard the development would deliver 25 per cent affordable housing and that “very special circumstances” existed to justify development on the Green Belt, including boosting the borough’s “deficient” housing land supply, and the “poor condition” of the existing site.

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Council planning officers said the development would provide sustainable drainage improvements to the site, compared to its current use, and that no objection had been raised by Northumbrian Water Ltd.

A decision has been delayed due to sewage and water pollution concerns.A decision has been delayed due to sewage and water pollution concerns.
A decision has been delayed due to sewage and water pollution concerns.

The housing application had already sparked opposition including around 40 objections following a council consultation exercise, as well as a petition with 92 signatures in objection.

According to a council report, the petition stated “infrastructure is not in place to support this development” around GP and dentist appointments, traffic and sewerage, which was described by one objector as being “at breaking point”.

Concerns were also raised about the loss of the former pub building, which comprises the remains of Hope House dating from the 18th century, as well as concerns about tree loss and impacts on the Green Belt.

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Elsewhere, hundreds of people also signed another public petition linked to the pub site demanding action from South Tyneside Council on the matter.

At a decision-making meeting for the Whitburn Lodge site at South Shields Town Hall this week, several objectors made their case to councillors.

One objector raised concerns about the loss of heritage and culture from demolishing the “oldest house in the village” Hope House and the impact on local health and education infrastructure from new homes.

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The objector also described the proposed houses as “expensive boxes with nothing to them” and pleaded for councillors to prevent the site from being “trashed”.

Other objectors focused on impacts on the area’s sewerage network from more than 30 new properties, and raised concerns about assurances and evidence provided to the council by Northumbrian Water Limited.

Steve Lavelle, vice-chair of Whitburn Neighbourhood Forum, said the “post-development betterment” argument put forward by council planners, around improved surface and foul water drainage on site, represented “greenwashing”.

Bob Latimer, who has campaigned for decades around sewage entering the sea off the South Tyneside and Sunderland coast, called for the plans to be deferred to allow for a “full investigation” around the combined sewerage system.

The Whitburn Lodge was severely damaged by a huge fire on New Year's Day in 2023.The Whitburn Lodge was severely damaged by a huge fire on New Year's Day in 2023.
The Whitburn Lodge was severely damaged by a huge fire on New Year's Day in 2023.
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The campaigner also made a plea for councillors to challenge Northumbrian Water Limited around sewerage capacity and for decision-makers to demonstrate “they’re not a soft touch”.

Meanwhile, supporters of the scheme, including the building owner and proposed housing developer, outlined the benefits of redeveloping the site for new homes.

Councillors heard alternative uses for the site had previously been explored, including a leisure venue, retirement village and even a supermarket, but that housing was deemed the only “viable use”.

It was noted that developers were prepared to demolish the site within 12 months, subject to planning approval, as well as starting work on new homes within two years.

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Phil Jones, head of land and partnerships at Lovell Homes, described the current site as both an “eyesore and hotspot for anti-social behaviour”, and said there was public support for the site’s redevelopment, with dozens of local people having already registered interest in the new homes.

It was noted that there had been 13 fires documented by the fire service at the Whitburn Lodge site over the past five years, and that demolition was proposed following public safety concerns.

Councillor Stephen Dean described the site as an “absolute eyesore” and said people in Whitburn deserved action on the site.

During discussion on the plans, however, several councillors challenged the council planning officer’s report, the justification for the scheme on Green Belt land, and the assurances around drainage.

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Councillor Shirley Ford said she wasn’t convinced that the application met “very special circumstances” to justify development on the Green Belt, referencing the focus on the site’s “deteriorating” condition and housing land supply.

Cllr Ford added she was concerned about the development creating “additional foul water flow into an already overloaded sewage system”.

Councillor Ian Forster, who led calls for the housing plans to be deferred, raised concerns about the impact on the sewerage network from new housing across Whitburn, Cleadon and East Boldon.

Concerns were also raised about the loss of Hope House on the site, which although not locally listed, was described as having significance to the area’s heritage and links to Whitburn Colliery.

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During debate, councillor Eileen Leask questioned whether the Whitburn Lodge development would be the “tipping point” in terms of impacts on local sewerage capacity.

Councillor Andrew Guy added the sewage issue was “already past its tipping point” and raised concerns about bathing water quality and the number of extra “toilet flushes” in the wider area from new housing developments.

Council planners maintained there had been in-house council analysis around drainage issues, but later confirmed they had not received “statistical evidence” from Northumbrian Water around capacity in the sewerage system.

After nearly two hours of debate, speeches and questions, Cllr Forster’s motion to defer the plans was put to the vote and backed by the Planning Committee.

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The deferral aimed to provide the committee with “up-to-date evidence and statistics to make an informed decision” and to look at public health issues around the impacts of new housing developments.

The planning application will be presented to a future meeting of South Tyneside Council’s Planning Committee.

Even if approved by councillors in future, the planning application would still need to be referred to the Secretary of State for a final decision.

Councillors were told the Government referral was required because of “the amount of floorspace proposed in the Green Belt”.