Plans to partially demolish a former swimming pool and replace it with £10m retirement accommodation have been given the green light.
McCarthy and Stone has been seeking to demolish the old pool building in Hexham town centre and build 45 apartments over seven storeys in its place, promising to create more than 120 jobs.
The plans had split opinion, with opponents saying they would be an “eyesore” within the community’s conservation area, while supporters cited the need for the properties.
And councillors have now given the go-ahead.
The pool on Gilesgate opened in 1974 on the site of a wool warehouse built by Henry Bell in 1885.
It was closed by the now defunct Tynedale Council when a replacement at the town’s Wentworth Leisure Centre opened in 2008.
The site was put up for sale by Northumberland County Council two years later.
McCarthy and Stone first announced plans to develop the site in 2012, when concerns were voiced by Hexham Civic Society.
The company’s recent planning bid sought demolition of the pool building and two properties on Haugh Lane, to make way for the retirement housing.
The scheme would see the stone facade of the pool building on Gilesgate retained.
The plans attracted 15 letters of objection, including one from the civic society, but also 19 letters of support.
The county council’s conservation team also objected.
Yet authority planning officers recommended the scheme be approved and councillors have now followed that advice.
Last night, McCarthy and Stone said its scheme represents an investment of around £10m in Hexham that will create up to 120 jobs throughout construction with additional permanent jobs upon completion.
The company claimed 64 people have registered an interest in purchasing one of the homes and that 70% of respondents to a consultation had backed the scheme.
Furthermore, the scheme will free up larger homes onto the market, suitable for families in Hexham who are trying to move up the property ladder.
Steve Secker, regional managing director for the company’s Northern Region, said: “Naturally we are delighted with the council’s decision to approve our plans.
“McCarthy and Stone has listened to residents’ views and is confident that the development will be an asset to Hexham.
“Our plans not only represent a substantial financial investment into the area, but will breathe new life into the site and also ensure that the locally valued historic façade of the former swimming pool is protected for future generations.”
Roger Higgins, chairman of the civic society, said his organisation was considering a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.
“(We are) extremely disappointed. Somewhat suspicious of a scheme which is recommended for approval by the case officer despite being described as unacceptable by the council’s own conservation officer and as a missed opportunity by English Heritage and yet being passed without debate or dissent by the planning committee.
“We think they are not unrelated, the fact that the site is owned by the county council who have a financial interest in selling the site as quickly as possible and making as little demand on the developer as possible.
“Some of our members have said we should take it to ombudsman because of clear conflict of interest. We are thinking about it, weighing up our options.
“It is right next to the abbey, how do you get a more sensitive location? We were never against the scheme, we just wanted a design which would give a different footprint.
“It is rather a cheap array of materials, artificial stone.”