Rumour mill spreads fear for Willows’ future

Garry Featherstone and David Clark with other residents concerned about The Willows and Beechfield House, Gas House Lane in Morpeth.'Picture by Jane Coltman
Garry Featherstone and David Clark with other residents concerned about The Willows and Beechfield House, Gas House Lane in Morpeth.'Picture by Jane Coltman
0
Have your say

Fears are growing for the future of old Morpeth buildings amid rumours they are to be demolished.

The Herald revealed in April last year that residents were joining forces to try to save The Willows and Beechfield House in Low Stanners as rare examples of early Victorian architecture in the town.

It is self-evident that any redevelopment must incorporate the existing historic buildings, rather than demolish them.

David Bawn, Northumberland County Councillor Morpeth North

A campaign was launched to secure listed status and in the autumn volunteers undertook basic maintenance at the sites to try to preserve them.

However, Northumberland County Council, which owns the properties, announced in March that a ‘landmark riverside development’ could be created there.

And now it is feared the old buildings could be cleared to make way.

Campaigner Garry Featherstone said: “Nothing has been disclosed, but the rumour is that the preferred option is to demolish these buildings to make way for some development.

“These buildings are gorgeous. It would be removing the heritage of the area, which can’t be replaced.

“It shows the council doesn’t really have any vision for the site and what could be done with these buildings. They could become a facility for the town and for tourists to come to Morpeth – perhaps something like the Discovery Museum or Woodhorn. Morpeth Antiquarian Society has its artefacts in Newbiggin so it could be a site for those and somewhere for visitors to have a cup of coffee and enjoy the grounds.”

Mr Featherstone said the fight will go on to save the buildings, including setting up a petition.

Fellow campaigner and town councillor David Clark said: “It seems our heritage is being sacrificed in the name of progress.

“The council has said there will be a landmark riverside development without telling us what it is. It could be a community centre, but I think it will be getting the maximum value out of the land as it can.

“The hope was that the facade could be retained. People would like to see the buildings kept and there are hundreds of posts on Morpeth Matters Facebook page of people asking what they can do to help.

“The Lights Out campaign proves we are more than happy to take things up with the county council, but I can’t help but feel that things are a lot further down the road than people realise.

“However, even if it comes to demolition, we will make sure there are plenty of people there to show their disgust at what is being done.”

County councillor David Bawn is also concerned.

He said: “I am sure I am not the only person in Morpeth with some disquiet about the masterplan released by Northumberland County Council regarding the re-siting of various facilities in Morpeth, which to my mind goes against the spirit of the emerging Neighbourhood Plan.

“With reference to the attractive Victorian Willows building, I agree that this corner of the town desperately needs to be redeveloped, but we must do all we can to protect our town’s historic built environment.

“It is self-evident that any redevelopment must incorporate the existing historic buildings, rather than demolish them.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The council believes that the library site and adjoining buildings at The Willows and Beechfield could form a site to be used for a landmark riverside development for the benefit of the town.

“These proposals are obviously at an early stage and are subject to a number of factors. We will be working with the town council and the Neighbourhood Plan group as we develop future proposals.”