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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Frustration over rejection of West Cumbrian arts centre plans

Bosses at Cockermouth’s Kirkgate Centre said they were frustrated after a £1.5 million plan to modernise and extend the arts hub was thrown out by Allerdale councillors.

kirkgateplans1210
ARTIST’S IMPRESSION: The proposed design for Cockermouth’s Kirkgate Centre

Against officers’ advice, the authority’s development panel rejected the scheme because it was out of keeping with the surrounding conservation area.

It was a close vote – eight members against and six in favour – and means the Kirkgate’s last resort is an appeal that it has already lodged with the Government.

The plans include partly demolishing the east and west gables of the former Victorian school and adding two zinc-clad extensions linked to the existing building with glass walkways.

The extension would include a foyer with a cafe bar, seating area and box office, a community meeting room, better offices and improved seating, lighting and sound equipment in the auditorium.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Hannah Kozich, chairman of the Kirkgate’s board of directors, said: “It is frustrating that eight councillors felt able to go against all the advice and professional opinion of not only their own planning officers and conservation officer but also Cockermouth Civic Trust, Places Matter – an independent architectural review panel – and crucially English Heritage, all of whom supported the proposed design scheme.

“We are now determined that our scheme represents the best way of ensuring a future for the Kirkgate Centre, and we believe that ultimately the modernised building will be a great attraction for Cockermouth.

“Our proposal for a modern extension to the Victorian school building falls very clearly within national planning policy, which supports and encourages innovative design.

“The National Planning Policy Framework indicates that, when developing traditional buildings, there should be a clear distinction between the old original building and the new extension so that the older building is clearly and visibly conserved – and that is precisely what we are proposing.”

The scheme has split opinion in the town. Allerdale council was sent a 366-name petition in support of the plans and more than 65 letters of support, but was also given a 266-name petition against the scheme and 59 letters of objection. Cockermouth Town Council also objected.

It was the second time the proposal had been before planners. It was knocked back by the panel in July and the centre immediately lodged an appeal with the Government.

It then resubmitted the plans for Allerdale council’s consideration.

But Meredyth Bell, who runs a dental surgery in Market Place, said at the meeting: “This extension will have absolutely nothing to cushion it, it will look appalling.

“I would love to see an extension and the centre needs it but I don’t think it needs to be in these materials.”

Kate Parry, the centre’s development manager, said the new design would sustain it as a community hub and make all of the centre accessible to wheelchair users, enabling it to provide more services and facilities.

Councillor Chris Garrard said the scheme was “a wonderful thing for Cockermouth” and proposed that it be approved. Coun Peter Kendall seconded the motion, saying it would enhance an “already eroded” conservation area.

But Coun Joe Holliday said: “I am sure it could be more in keeping with the building itself. I just don’t understand why they didn’t at least try to appease the local people.”

Coun Jim Lister moved that it be refused, seconded by councillor Nicky Cockburn who branded the plans “ghastly”.

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