Six experts express dismay at £22 million project earmarked for Scarborough town centre

Argos building in ScarboroughArgos building in Scarborough
Argos building in Scarborough
Six planning specialists have written to Scarborough Council to say they are dismayed at the authority’s plans for a £22 million project to build 200 flats for NHS workers and students in the heart of the town.

The planning advisors, who all at one stage worked for borough authority, say that the scheme to replace the former Argos building in Newborough is unlikely to get planning permission and the project has “focussed almost entirely on finance” at the cost of “civic design”.

The letter has been signed by Jonathan Allison, head of planning services 1974-1995, Gordon Somerville, head of planning services 1995-2008, David Williams, local plans officer 1974 -2010, David Green, group planning officer [north] 1974-2008, Chris Hall, conservation officer 1974 – 2013, and Tony Wilson, group planning officer [South] 1987-2002; Planning Inspectorate 2002-2011.

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The six call on the authority to look again at the proposals, warning that the scheme contravenes the council’s own Local Plan and would create a “large and inappropriately designed building” in the town’s Conservation Area next to the grade II listed Market Hall.

They said: “While the removal of the ugly 1960s building is most welcome, this misdirected redevelopment scheme seems to have evolved out of the public gaze, is focussed almost entirely on finance and is being driven by external funding rather than civic design.

“The planning issues, once again, being left to the end of the process, rather than being a fundamental, early consideration.”

The letter adds that any refusal of the plan would likely be upheld under an appeal to the Secretary of State.

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They conclude: “While we support the concept of providing student accommodation within the town centre, with a large sum of money potentially available for this purpose, we consider that there are numerous opportunities to do this in a different but much more positive and creative way.

“The council should be looking at providing the necessary accommodation within several smaller refurbishment/redevelopment projects on the numerous vacant, run-down and underused sites on the fringes of the town centre shopping area.

“This would have the advantage of improving the appearance of several other parts of the central Conservation Area; bringing sites/buildings into new uses; and providing the necessary stimulus for further investment/improvements.

“Some of the available finance could then be diverted in a genuine attempt to use the Argos site for a new, meaningful civic space.”

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Under the council’s proposals the Argos building would be replaced with a scheme drawn up in collaboration with Coventry University Scarborough and the York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which runs services at Scarborough Hospital.

As part of the plans, the council is also looking to creating a “market square” which could include demolishing some buildings at St Helen’s Square, which is adjacent to the Argos site.

The cabinet voted last week to move ahead with the proposals, subject to a number of conditions being met including the granting of planning permission and a financial viability test being passed.

That decision has since been “called-in” by 10 councillors on the authority, saying the scheme needs further scrutiny due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on local authority finances.

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In response to the planning advisor’s letter the chairman of the council’s planning committee, Labour’s Cllr Eric Broadbent, said their concerns had been noted.

In an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he wrote: “I do appreciate the concerns that you raise as past planning officers, and indeed your knowledge of planning issues in our borough, having sat with you all as a member of Scarborough Planning Committee over many years.

“I would like to reassure you all that this very important proposed redevelopment in Scarborough in the vicinity of the Market Hall will go through all the planning procedures, and every aspect of the decision will be closely examined and discussed by the Planning Committee.”