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Woolsington Hall gutted by fire

Tuesday, 05 January 2016 11:29

Woolsington Hall ablaze Woolsington Hall ablaze © Save Newcastle Wildlife

In a dramatic twist to the saga of Woolsington Hall, a fire has swept through the neglected building causing further damage to this listed property.

The Newcastle fire service tackled the blaze on the night of 29 December and brought the fire under control, though not before a roof collapse left the Hall open to the elements. At present we do not know what damage has been done to the structure of the building, but the heavy rains in the days following the fire cannot have done it any good.

Those who have been following the saga of Woolsington Hall and the threat to the ancient woodland in its grounds will know that following its purchase by the Cameron Hall development company about twenty years ago the Hall has not been lived in, as it had been previously, but simply 'weather-proofed', and left until a suitable opportunity arose to exploit its development potential. What stood in their way for many years was the protection in law afforded to the Green Belt around our major cities which required 'exceptional circumstances' for any form of development.

Pressure from the Government's National Planning Policy Framework requiring local authorities to draw up Local Plans setting ambitious housing targets for the coming years have led some authorities, Newcastle City Council being one, to allow sizable deletions from the Green Belt around the city. In this context Cameron Hall applied to build some 70 or more high-cost properties in the woodland around the Hall, cutting down some 1000 or so ancient trees to make way for them. The company's plans also included a golf course and refurbishment of the Hall, converting it to a 5* boutique hotel in the process.

This last detail of the plan was key, of course, to the whole scheme, as the cost of refurbishment of Woolsington Hall would require, they argued, an 'enabling' provision achieved through building the houses first, and that this highly profitable part of the scheme would supply the 'exceptional circumstances' under which the protection of the Green Belt from such development could be set aside.

While 10,000 people signed a petition against the scheme sponsored by Save Newcastle Wildlife, Newcastle City Council planning committee agreed to the plan, and Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, chose not to intervene.

This left the developers with the opportunity to go ahead with their plans. However, the fire has cast new doubts and questions over the future of the Hall and grounds. An investigation by the Police and Fire services into the circumstances of the fire has been called for. Meanwhile the leader of the opposition on Newcastle City Council, Anita Lower, has suggested that the Council might need to review its decision to approve the development until all questions are answered and all doubts cleared about the future of the Hall. 

Save Newcastle Wildlife has campaigned tirelessly in an effort to protect the ancient woodland and its wildlife, including red squirrels and badgers. Cpre Northumberland supports the campaign and opposes the needless loss of Green Belt land not just around Newcastle but throughout Northumberland, and nationally.

external website Save Newcastle Wildlife




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