North Yorkshire’s crime commissioner is facing growing anger over the sale of the county’s Grade II-listed police headquarters to an outdoor education firm after hundreds of residents complained about the “outlandish development”.
Julia Mulligan announced in March that she was selling Newby Wiske Hall, near Northallerton, to PGL in order that North Yorkshire Police could move into more modern headquarters.
But the company’s plans to convert the former stately home into a residential training centre, incorporating up to 550 guest bed spaces, staff accommodation and outdoor tent area are now attracting strong local opposition.
More than 250 people, including former North Yorkshire Chief Constable Della Cannings, have written to Hambleton District Council planners objecting to the proposals.
Among the complaints are that the scale of the centre, offering adventure activities for children, is bigger than suggested during an open day earlier in the year.
Residents say the plans will have a detrimental effect on the heritage value of Newby Wiske Hall, parts of which date back to 1693, and that the activity at the site will dramatically increase noise levels.
We do oppose a change which at one fell swoop will almost quadruple the residential size of the village overnight and will destroy a long-established Conservation Area.David Stockport, Newby Wiske Action Group
They say 83 trees are to be felled and that the company will deny the public access to footpaths that have been used for many years. The number of coaches visiting the site will be more than PGL has said and will destroy the peace, it is claimed.
Announcing the decision to sell to PGL in March, Mrs Mulligan said that by handing the site to the firm she “knew that she would be leaving the Grade II-listed country home in good hands”.
She said the move to Alverton Court, the former Rural Payments building, would save the force £10m and help modernise the way the force operated.
“We had quite a few offers on the Hall and after careful consideration I have chosen a buyer who will work sympathetically with the building, have minimal impact on the environment and I believe, be a very good neighbour.”
PGL say the plan, which involves converting existing buildings for use by pupils and teachers on school trips so they can take part in adventure activities and excursions, will create more than 100 jobs.
The changes to the site, described in a planning application submitted by SLR Consulting Limited, include a new coach passing place, a lake extension and facilities including giant swings, zip wires, an archery area and four-sided abseil and climbing towers.
The building was sold to PGL subject to contract, meaning the firm will not take ownership of it until planning permission is granted (CHECK). Hambleton District Council’s planning committee hope to consider the application at their meeting on September 17.
But on the firm’s website, which says the building will open in the Spring, details have already been posted about available activities and potential visitors are invited to make bookings.
David Stockport, spokesman for the Newby Wiske Action Group, said if Mrs Mulligan has been misled about PGL’s plans for the site, she should “consider her social responsibility to the community and withdraw from the sale”.
But he said if the crime commissioner found the firm’s proposals acceptable then “as a publicly-elected official we believe she should be ashamed”.
Describing the development as ‘outlandish’, he said: “Not unexpectedly we have faced accusations of NIMBYism for our opposition to the plans but we really do not stand for opposing all change.
“We do oppose a change which at one fell swoop will almost quadruple the residential size of the village overnight and will destroy a long-established Conservation Area.”
Newby Wiske, Maunby and South Otterington Parish Council are among the ‘statutory’ consultees to object to the plans.
In a letter to planning official, the parish council’s clerk Nikki Bowe wrote that the development, if approved, would contravene the district council’s policies on Conservation Areas.
She wrote: “Numerous other objections and observations have been raised by concerned residents, and the Parish Council wholeheartedly agree with these.”
Hambleton’s own environmental health service also has concerns about the likelihood of noise from the development affecting neighbours living nearby.
North Yorkshire’s former Chief Constable Della Cannings submitted a three-page letter calling on planners to reject the plans, describing the decision as an “absolute no-brainer”.
She wrote: “It is unlikely in this day and age that the youngsters will stay within the confines of Newby Wiske Hall - no doubt going outside the boundary to smoke, drink alcohol and undertake other banned activities.
“There is nowhere else for them to go/congregate than around the village - it is obvious the potential for crime/disorder/nuisance.”
In response, Mrs Mulligan said: “Selling our old HQ site in Newby Wiske was one of my manifesto commitments and is the right thing to do.
“The Grade 2 listed building costs approximately £1 million to upkeep, has problems with technology, flooding and energy supply; frankly, the police needed a new building, suitable for the challenges facing them in the 21st century. What’s more their move to Alverton Court is set to save about £10m over the coming years.
“The sale of Newby Wiske Hall itself was done carefully and thoroughly - I have a duty to every resident of North Yorkshire. PGL are now in the midst of a planning application and given that the sale is subject to planning, it would not be appropriate for me to get involved.
“I have had assurances that the planning process will be thorough and fully consultative, so specific issues about the application need to be directed to Hambleton District Council as the planning authority.
“Having said this, I have offered to listen to members of the community in person, as I do understand that they have legitimate concerns. Members of the Newby Wiske Action Group have also already raised their concerns at a police and crime panel meeting, and I am sure they would be welcome to do so again.”
A PGL spokeswoman said: “PGL has submitted a planning application for Newby Wiske Hall. We are pleased to have held a consultation event to understand residents’ views and details of the application have been available for review and comment on the council planning website.“