PLANS for a groundbreaking medical campus are to be revived after a Government inspection.
In February, members of Newcastle City Council’s development control committee turned down an application to create a Campus for Ageing and Vitality on the General Hospital site.
They were concerned that a Tesco supermarket planned as part of the site was too big and would have a negative impact on both other shops and people living in the area.
But an independent planning inspector brought in to examine a regeneration plan for the whole of Scotswood and Benwell, has now removed an upper limit for the size of the store imposed by the council. Hospital bosses called it a triumph for common sense and pledged to submit new plans for the hospital site, while council chiefs say they will work with developers on the best solution for the site.
Planning inspector Anthony Thickett was asked by the Government to examine the council’s Benwell and Scotswood Area Action Plan.
He ordered the removal of a 2,450sqm limit on the size of a superstore at the General Hospital imposed by the city council, saying it should be up to the developer to demonstrate the need for shop space, not to the council to prescribe it.
Contrary to claims by the council, he found there was no evidence that a store of the size proposed would have a negative impact on other shops in the area.
He also found it unlikely that other shopping areas, such as Adelaide Terrace, Condercum Road and the West Road, would be redeveloped to offer sufficient facilities to the people of the area.
The application, by Newcastle Hospitals, Newcastle University and Tesco, hoped to integrate a 8,598sqm supermarket, adapted for older people and providing services such as hearing testing as well as selling a range of goods, with research and treatment facilities surrounding ageing. Sir Len Fenwick, chief executive of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The outcome of the Benwell and Scotswood plan is most encouraging and will, we believe, provide a platform to move forward with the regeneration of the site, which will very much focus on the Campus for Ageing and Vitality, with Tesco as a key partner.
“This is not a whole-scale sell-off of the General Hospital site. Two-thirds of the site remains with the NHS and Newcastle Hospitals. But the Brighton Grove Centre, which will be health and community space serving the West End, is directly underwritten by the capital receipt from Tesco.
“Given the constraints on public spending our partnership with Tesco is exciting. The alternative is extensive dereliction of the site.
“I think common sense has prevailed. It’s an ideal location and that has been recognised by the independent planning inspector. We’re working with Newcastle City Council to refresh the plans and will be resubmitting a planning application in line with the inspector’s recommendations.”
Sir Len said he hoped building work could start next summer.
Coun Bill Shepherd, the city council’s executive member for regeneration, said: “The planning inspector has left it up to the normal democratic process to make the decision. As far as the General Hospital is concerned, we are very keen to work with the hospital trust to deliver the institute for ageing, which is the core purpose for the redevelopment.
“The reason for the rejection wasn’t all down to the size. There were a whole host of issues that, no doubt, the hospital trust and the city council will work together to resolve.”
The councillor said Scotswood needed good retail provision, in some form or other. “We’re continuing to talk to a number of different supermarkets about how that’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s certainly not a final thing that there will be something on the hospital site and nothing anywhere else.”
Kate Hodgkinson, from protest group Stop Fenham Tesco, which campaigned against the plans, said she was disappointed.