TWO unsold “crown jewel” buildings in Hexham are being taken off the market after two-and-a-half years ... and kept by Northumberland County Council.
The £1m-valued Hexham House and Prospect House were marketed in autumn 2010 as part of a four-property sale aimed at raising £4m in the economic downturn.
But although the Old Grammar School was sold, and there are independent development plans for the Old Swimming Pool, no suitable offer has been tabled for either of the others.
Now the council has unveiled plans to convert Hexham House, the former council HQ which overlooks attractive public parks, into a picturesque wedding venue and registrar’s office.
And Prospect House, where council functions and meetings are held, is to be refurbished for possible rented accommodation and offices.
Both buildings will be retained by the county council, which will receive income from them.
Hexham county councillor Derek Kennedy announced the withdrawal of the prestigious town-centre buildings from the sale market yesterday .
He said: “I am delighted to announce that the county council is planning to refurbish Hexham House and use it as a Registrar’s and as a wedding venue. The former headquarters of Tynedale Council is an iconic building.
“The people of Hexham will be delighted with this news ... it will change an old council office building into a lovely historical venue which can be used by the general public.
“This is the type of investment Hexham has been crying out for. It will help stimulate the economy as people will require hotel accommodation and catering facilities in the nearby restaurants.
“It is a perfect venue overlooking Hexham Abbey and the beautiful parks. I am really pleased the county council is planning this investment into the town.”
Coun Kennedy added: “Prospect House is a rambling old building which covers numerous floors and has been used by the county council as office space.
“Turning it into accommodation will bring people into the town spending money in the shops. There comes a time when you have to accept you are not going to get a sale, and find alternative plans.”
The announced sale of the four “Crown Jewel” buildings in Hexham in October 2010 raised a storm of objection from local people denouncing it as a betrayal of the town’s heritage.
The authority put strict protection conditions on the sales, insisting any buyers would be carefully vetted.
In January 2011, 11 secret offers were lodged through the rarely-used formal tender process, where bids are made in sealed envelopes, through estate agents Rook Matthews Sayer.
But none were suitable and the attempts to sell went on until mid-2011 when former Hexham town mayor Terry Robson urged that “the best reasonable offer” should be accepted.
Eventually, in May last year, the Old Grammar School on Hallgate, used as a council planning office, was sold at auction in London for £430,000 to an unidentified buyer.
The Old Swimming Pool on Gilesgate remains in the hands of the council with developers McCarthy & Stone seeking planning permission ahead of any purchase.
Mr Robson welcomed the council’s decision to develop Hexham House and Prospect House.
He said: “If services are being kept in Hexham it will be a positive move. People are fed up with the centralisation of services in Morpeth.
“It has had a major effect on shops and businesses in Hexham, but this will be very positive for the town.”