Petition aims to save hospital's bell tower
A petition calling for the Victorian frontage of Berwick Infirmary to be saved has been created by a former mayor.
The Bell Tower has been deemed surplus to requirements by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust in its £25m rebuild of the hospital.
However, Cllr Hazel Bettison believes it is an important part of the townscape and the trust should make a bigger effort to incorporate it into its plans.
Her petition has attracted 287 signatures in 48 hours.
She said: “It is fantastic news that at long last Berwick will be getting a new hospital. In the new design though, the front part of the hospital is to be demolished and replaced by flower beds.
“All over the country where old hospitals have been re-modernised, like the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, the Victorian frontage have been worked into the design.
“The hospital is part of our heritage, it is a landmark in our landscape, it has stood and done the town proud and it is built to last, not like all the ‘modern’, extensions behind it. I’m sure with some thought it can be worked into the design.”
Representatives from Northumbria Healthcare and project partners, giving a presentation to Berwick Town Council on Monday, admitted the future Bell Tower had been the biggest issue it had encountered in the planning process.
Sam Marler of planning consultants Nathaniel Lichfield, said: “We’ve been in discussions with Northumberland County Council for some time now. Through those discussions a few issues have emerged. The most significant issue to date has been around the Bell Tower and the county council, as a starting point, asked the trust to see if it could be retained.
“The trust have looked at this in some detail. The Bell Tower is not a listed building but it is in a conservation area and key issues associated with its re-use are its adaptability, limited functional space.
“Without the rear elements, there is no access to the upper floors in there and the building itself is not suitable for modern healthcare requirements.
“There are large financial costs associated with its retention and its refurbishment for modern use and it seems difficult to secure an alternative use. “The trust would be keen to secure an alternative use, if possible, for something that did not impact on the operation of the hospital itself.
“The building, from the design concept we have to date, is surplus to the trust’s requirements. In working with the council we have identified that the replacement of the Bell Tower would need to be a high quality landscaping scheme.”
The petition can be found at www.change.org/p/hazel-bettison-save-the-victorian-front-part-of-berwick-infirmary