Shepherd meets opposition over La Sagesse proposals

Shepherd Offshore’s contentious proposals to develop 60 private homes on the Jesmond Towers site, formerly La Sagesse school, continue to meet stiff opposition from local people. On Monday night, residents packed out a chilly St George’s church hall to air their views and put questions to council officers and representatives of Shepherd Offshore.

A number of concerns have blighted the proposed development, which is still under consideration by the council’s Planning Committee. Foremost among these is the presence of a Grade II * listed building – Jesmond Towers – on the site. Jesmond Action Group has pointed out that this rating puts Jesmond Towers in the same category as the gardens surrounding Buckingham Palace.

Residents have argued that the development would contravene Statement 5 of the government’s Planning Policy Statements, specifically policies HE9 and HE10. Under these guidelines, planning authorities must favour the preservation of heritage assets and consider the effect of any development on the surrounding area.

The building would be preserved under the plans and converted into 10 apartments; however the development would involve significant encroachment onto the curtilage of the listed building and would have a significant effect on its surroundings.

Furthermore, the site of the proposed development is within the Jesmond Dene Conservation Area and is therefore protected under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. The council must consider the area’s character statement when assessing any planning application and residents have argued that Shepherd Offshore’s proposals do not fall in line with the character of the area.

The proposals do not include a social housing element. By the council’s own planning policy, any new development involving the construction of 15 or more homes must include a 25 percent social housing provision, although on occasion a financial contribution may be made in lieu of this. However, in this case Shepherd Offshore has stated that there are no funds available for a financial contribution and the council will bear this in mind when making its decision.

Supporters of the development say it will create jobs, encourage families to move to the area, regenerate the site and help support the upkeep of Jesmond Towers.

Monday night’s meeting saw numerous points raised by local residents. Some, including a member of Jesmond Action Group, expressed the concern that the initial plans might represent a tactical move by Shepherd Offshore to propose a relatively large development, expecting it to be rejected, before returning to the table with a reduced proposal, hoping residents would not fight it a second time.

Several residents raised concerns about the effects the plans would have on traffic in the local area. SAJ Transport Consultants, operating on behalf of Shepherd Offshore, said their research indicated that traffic volumes would be less in the morning than when the site was a school, but greater in the evening. The research they undertook did not take into account the impact on pedestrians.

Jesmond Action Group urged people to make their views known to the council in writing and praised the articulate contributions of all those who attended the meeting. The council’s Development Management officer Billy Browell encouraged people to make representations and said that if they justified their support or objections with reasoned arguments, their views would have a significant bearing on the council’s decision.

The official period for the public consultation ends 27th January, but the council will accept written representations for another 10 days at least. It is hoped the final decision will be made by the Planning Committee before 6th April.

The land was originally bought by Shepherd Offshore in 2009 after La Sagesse school closed. As the owners of a listed building, they are obliged to maintain it and argue that the development is necessary to finance this.

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