A formal decision on an £11m visitor and landscape discovery centre at a Northumberland site has been put on hold.
Plans by Northumberland National Park Authority for the major development, called The Sill, at Once Brewed on the central section of Hadrian’s Wall, were approved on Wednesday by the park authority’s development management committee.
But a third party has referred the application to the Planning Casework Unit, a body to manage planning decisions on behalf of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
The proposal had split opinion in what has been described as one of the most sensitive landscape sites in England.
The scheme, with cafe, offices, and retail which also includes an 87-space car park and a 93-space overflow car park, would replace the existing 1970s Once Brewed national park visitor centre, while a new 86-bed youth hostel would replace the existing YHA facilities on the site.
The development would cover 3.2 hectares directly to the south of the B6318 Military Road, within the Hadrian’s Wall world heritage site buffer zone.
The park authority’s development management committee was advised to approve the bid at its meeting on Wednesday which it did.
But now a formal decision will be held off until the Department for Communities and Local Government has had an opportunity to consider the request.
Stuart Evans, Sill Project Director at Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “We are pleased with the decision taken by the local planning authority to support plans for The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre, with a ten to one endorsement.
“The planning committee’s decision is an important milestone for the project’s success.
“We understand that there has been a third party request for the Secretary of State to determine this application and until the Department for Communities and Local Government have had an opportunity to consider the request we have to wait for a formal decision.”
Ahead of the meeting there were 17 letters of objection and 15 in support of the Sill.
Supporters range from Northumberland County and Carlisle City Councils to the National Trust, with objectors including the neighbouring Vindolanda Trust and the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.
A report to the committee by Mr Evans said that the existing Once Brewed visitor centre is dilapidated and does not befit its location, with the visitor experience suffering as a result.
The aim of the scheme has been to create a building which sits comfortably within the landscape and reflects the character of the national park.
The report says the proposal is a major development in the national park.
“The proposal is intended to be a key driver to achieve the national park’s ambition to make the park accessible to a wider and more diverse audience,” says the report.
The target is to attract 100,000 visitors a year. Visitor numbers to the existing centre have fallen from 65,000 in 2008 to 42,000 in 2012. The park believes this is due to the declining quality of the facilities.
The Once Brewed centre is losing £50,000 a year, with a projected drop in visitor numbers to 31,000 by 2018.
Both the existing centre and the YHA hostel were in danger of closure by then.
The report says the development of The Sill would generate £2.6m a year for the economy and create the equivalent of 117 jobs.