Woolsington Hall blaze calls development case into question

December 30, 2015 1:50 PM
After news that Woolsington Hall has largely burned down following a fire last night, Opposition Liberal Democrat councillors are calling for a full investigation of the circumstances by the police, fire service, and the local authority.
The Grade II listed building has been "at risk" for many years, with the then Lib-Dem run council initiating formal enforcement action in 2008 against Sir John Hall, the property's owner, for allowing it to fall into a serious state of disrepair. In latter years, it has been at the centre of controversy as a result of Cameron Hall's redevelopment plans to convert the building into an upmarket hotel complex which purported to require significant "enabling development" of luxury housing on greenfield land and the loss of important wildlife habitat at Woolsington Woods. Despite considerable local opposition the Secretary of State recently upheld Newcastle City Council's decision to grant planning permission contrary to the Local Plan.
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Opposition group, Cllr Anita Lower, who has previously criticised the development, commented:
"The news that the unoccupied Hall building has been destroyed by fire last night is very sad, but it also raises significant concerns about the circumstances.
It has been reported by walkers and environmental campaigners in recent weeks that the front door of the Hall has been conspicuously left wide open and it seems difficult to imagine that the site's owners were unaware of this and were unable to take steps to secure the site. The owners have questions to answer about their lack of regard to keeping the building safe and secure, particularly given a history of failing to maintain and conserve this building over many years.
I believe it is imperative that the police and fire services urgently investigate the circumstances of this fire.
I am also calling on the city council's planning officers and legal advisors to take a view on whether the controversial Woolsington Woods 'enabling development' housing estate, which was claimed to be necessary to fund the cost of the Woolsington Hall hotel development, should now be reviewed. If the viability of the hotel scheme is affected by the destruction of the Hall, it should follow that the "very special circumstances" claimed as justification for the enabling development no longer apply.
In the view of the Opposition, the basis for the entire scheme may now need to be reconsidered."