Plans to demolish Sunderland's historic Monkwearmouth Hospital refused after councillors reject recommendation

Proposals to demolish buildings at Monkwearmouth Hospital to make way for a new clinical office development have been refused by city councillors.

Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 2:33 pm

Sunderland City Council planning officers had recommended plans to transform part of the historic hospital site off Newcastle Road.

Operated by Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, it provides a range of clinical services for adults, those with learning disabilities and older people.

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Plans for Monkwearmouth Hospital have been rejected.

However at a meeting of the council’s Planning and Highways (East) Committee on Monday, November 29, councillors voted against the advice of their own planning officers and refused the scheme.

The decision fell against a backdrop of opposition from residents living near the hospital, and fears about the loss of heritage, impacts on privacy and noise and traffic.

Several objectors attended the planning hearing along with Fulwell ward councillors Michael Hartnack and James Doyle, with speakers setting out reasons why the scheme should be refused.

Controversial aspects of the plans included the relocation of a car park and the demolition of the hospital’s front entrance which one objector said “holds the spirit of what Sunderland used to be.”

This included the hospital being built with money donated by well-known entrepreneur Sir John Priestman and its history as an accident hospital taking in patients from the shipyards, docks and mines.

Concerns were also raised about the quality of the pre-application consultation, alongside arguments that the modern design of the proposed building would clash with the character of surrounding dwellings.

The existing hospital is around 90 years old with the buildings earmarked for demolition considered to be “functionally and economically obsolete.”

Council planners said that the hospital lacked the “special architectural and historic interest” required to qualify for listing in a national context.

Although calls were made for the building’s stone ‘portico’ entrance to be retained and incorporated into the design of the new clinical office development, developers maintained this was not feasible.

However, councillors were told it would be possible to retain commemorative stones and plaques from the hospital buildings and to incorporate them into the redeveloped site.

In a presentation to the Planning and Highways (East) Committee, council planners said the development aimed to enhance and modernise existing hospital facilities and to improve accessibility to services.

A representative for the applicant, Monkwearmouth Developments Ltd, also confirmed there had been changes to the scheme including enhanced boundary treatment around the car park and reducing the number of spaces.

During discussion, committee members acknowledged the “difficult decision” between protecting the city’s heritage and providing improved health facilities.

After nearly two hours of debate, questions and speeches, Councillor Lyall Reed moved a motion to refuse the application on the grounds of heritage, reduced privacy and noise/ air pollution.

This was backed by a majority vote with six votes in favour and two against.

Fulwell ward councillor Michael Hartnack, who supported local residents opposing the plans, welcomed the planning decision.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: “I’m so proud to have been able to support such dedicated local residents, determined to preserve the memory of one of Sunderland’s most famous industrialist and philanthropic sons, namely Sir John Priestman.

“This significant step in challenging and beating the authorities is testament of the power the people have in standing up for what is right and just.

“A clear majority of councillors recognised last night, that our local heritage should be protected.”