Council criticised over plans to turn historic governor's house at Northallerton's Victorian prison into a gym

Hambleton Council has defended its plan to transform a well-known listed building by claiming using it as a gym would allow the public “to gain a deeper understanding to the historical context of the whole site”.

There are several listed buildings on the old Northallerton Prison site
There are several listed buildings on the old Northallerton Prison site

The council is set to consider a recommendation from its planning officers to approve converting part of the early 19th-century governor's house at the former Northallerton Prison site as part of its £17m Treadmills redevelopment scheme.

The proposal to create a fitness suite, install glass screens and enclose the staircase inside the building is among the final parts of the regeneration scheme.

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When the prison’s closure was announced in 2013 following 230 years of use as a jail, with the loss of 135 jobs, the town’s mayor said it was a “disaster”. The news came a month after the town’s Rural Payments Agency office closure was announced with 350 jobs being relocated.

The joint venture between the council and Yorkshire developer Wykeland Group has since seen much of the prison’s Quadrangle of pre-1830 buildings transformed.

The former prison site contains five listed buildings, some of which are thought to have been designed by 18th-century architect John Carr, who is best known for creating Harewood House.

After the council bought the site there was a huge amount of public interest when it offered tours of the historic buildings.

The governor’s house's Historic England Grade II listing states that its relatively conservative design and features such as its original staircase are among the reasons it deemed a building of national importance, alongside its historic interest.

The listing adds “the establishment of a prison and courthouse at Northallerton was a factor in the development of the town as the county town of the North Riding”.

Government policy states that where developments would cause any harm to a designated heritage asset, applicants must give a clear and convincing justification and that harm should be weighed against public benefits of the proposal including, securing its optimum viable use.

An officers’ report to a meeting of the council’s planning committee on Thursday acknowledges that while the governor's house is a key a component of the historic Quadrangle, within the Treadmills masterplan, the works carried out across site in principle have retained the buildings’ historic form.

It states while the “balance of harm” from the proposal “lies on the higher end of less than substantial spectrum” as the alterations would be removable, and that the development would not significantly impact the historical characteristics or heritage of the building.

The report states: “The incorporation of a public use within this building increases the public awareness to local history and is essential to safeguard this heritage asset for the future.

“On balance the delivery of this project would contribute positively to sustainability and place making and would bring significant regeneration benefits. The use of this building would allow the public to gain a deeper understanding to the historical context of the whole site not just the governor’s building.”