Go-ahead for offices project at town's Georgian former school

CONTROVERSIAL plans to turn one of Beverley's finest buildings into offices have won official backing.

The Planning Inspectorate has approved the conversion of Norwood House, described as one of the best Georgian buildings in the country.

Campaigners had hoped to turn the former school, built around 1760, into a national museum and community venue.

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Instead it now looks set to become seven self-contained office suites, with some 26 parking spaces.

Planing inspector Keith Turner, who was appointed after the developers Brantingham Group appealed an earlier refusal by East Riding Council's planning committee, visited the house on August 3. He said no public uses had been proposed which were "demonstrably realistic or viable".

The building has been empty some time and suffered an outbreak of wet and dry rot after a water tank burst. That had been successfully tackled but had been followed by an arson attack in 2004.

Mr Turner said the current layout of the building leant itself to the new use as the rooms were large enough to accommodate offices.

He added: "The recent history of the building has been parlous.

"The proposed use and works would result in its repair and improvement and provide for its future in the longer term."

Campaigners had been unhappy about the car parking "carving up" the garden at the back of the house.

But Mr Turner said giving nine of the parking bays a reinforced grass surface would allow them to blend in better, a technique "commonly used in sensitive settings with success".

He concluded: "With the modification suggested above I do not find the harm to be substantial and, in any event, the harm which would result is outweighed by the benefits if providing an active and viable use for the building, securing its repair and long-term preservation."

Trustees of Norwood House Beverley Ltd had backed a bid by the Buildings at Risk Trust to restore the building as a heritage and tourism venue with the involvement of the Embroiderers Guild, which was prepared to move its collection of historic tapestries from Hampton Court to Beverley.

Chairman Richard Fatkin said: "Our proposals would have been a more sustainable future for a property of this stature and would allow for permanent public access to view the areas of historical interest, whereas the current proposals is for four-and-a-half-days per year of public access, which is merely lip service."

East Riding councillor Kate Gray said the authority had missed an opportunity. She said: "I think we are very short-sighted, amazingly short-sighted, that we didn't really look at how it could be developed. It would have been a great asset on the Beverley heritage trail."

The decision to sell Norwood House was taken last March by the council's Cabinet, after a seven-year wait to allow alternative plans to come to fruition.

In June councillors passed modified plans with a new car-parking layout, but by then the appeal was already in progress, and the application had to be referred to the Secretary of State for final approval in any case.

A spokesman for East Riding Council said: "The council allowed a lot of time to allow alternative uses to be worked up before selling Norwood House.

"Meanwhile its condition worsened and it was placed on English Heritage At Risk" register.

"English Heritage gave their backing to the proposal that has now been allowed.

"The inspector has confirmed that we were not presented with a realistic plan for the future use of the building."