SAINSBURY’S has been given the go-ahead to bulldoze part of one of the world’s oldest railway inns to create a store for people to top up their weekly shops.
Conservative members of Darlington Borough Council’s planning committee voted in favour of the proposal for Platform 1 at Middleton St George despite hearing the borough had relatively few heritage assets.
The decision was followed by cries of “outrageous” and “disgrace” by numerous residents who had attempted to persuade councillors that the building on the trackbed of the Stockton and Darlington Railway could be resurrected as a community-owned pub and hub.
Angry residents said the result was a blow for democracy, but the committee’s chair Councillor Doris Jones replied while the process might appear dictatorial, they had to follow rules.
The meeting, held in the Dolphin Centre’s sports hall to meet social distancing requirements, had heard the council’s planning development manager David Coates present the case for why he believed “the planning balance” weighed favour of Sainsbury’s.
Mr Coates told the committee most of the historic fabric of the building that the council’s conservation officer had rated as being of “high significance” would be retained, and insisted the other part would be demolished rather than bulldozed, having misread a press report.
He concluded that while the heritage was a key consideration on which the proposal could be refused, he was recommending it be approved to provide a shop there having previously targeted the village with hundreds of homes to meet the housing supply the council needed. Mr Coates said:”The balance in many respects is related in many respects to the amount of impact of housing in Middleton St George. There has been a significant amount of housing there to meet our five-year housing supply and I and my team have been responsible for inflicting on the good people of Middleton St George with significant housing.”
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s then claimed the council’s conservation officer had “exaggerated” the heritage value of the building, as part of an effort to back the community pub proposal.
However, the meeting repeatedly heard from residents there was very little support for another convenience store in the village, but many more were in favour of the building, which was last year registered as an asset of community value, continuing its 190-year history as a pub.
Campaigners said they had advanced plans in place to take on the building and highlighted that the pub had only ceased operating after its owners decided not to renew a tenancy. They claimed previous tenancies had only failed because the owners had raised rent levels by several tens of thousands of pounds, making the business unviable.
The campaigners said the community venture could have the pub running within six months, but Conservative councillors raised doubts over their claims and the amount of support there was for it, saying the building could end up becoming a derelict eyesore.