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Negotiations stall grand plans for town’s historic hermitage

What the building could look like from the outside when it has been transformed.
What the building could look like from the outside when it has been transformed.

A heritage group with grand plans to transform Pontefract Dispensary and Hermitage into a community venue say they are frustrated with slow progress to get the building transferred to them.

Dr Colin White, chairman of the Pontefract Heritage Partnership, said the group intends to run a museum and visitor centre at the site to celebrate its history.

They also plan to create a restaurant and residential flats, which will generate income to maintain the building on Southgate.

But he said the group can only progress with the development once they have ownership of the former dispensary and hermitage, which currently lies with Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

Dr White said: “We have been frustrated by an impasse in our negotiations with the trust.

“Because we haven’t got an agreement about the precise asset transfer package that the NHS is willing to give us, we are unable to apply for a heritage grant.”

Dr White said the dispensary, formerly a part of Pontefract General Infirmary, and the Grade I-Listed hermitage had deteriorated since the infirmary closed and was demolished.

He said whilst the group recognised the financial pressures on the NHS, they “cannot accept the freehold of the building until it is in a sound and watertight condition”.

They also hope to gain a piece of land to the rear of the building and an access point from Friarwood Lane, for deliveries, waste removal and parking provision.

Dr White said: “Pontefract Dispensary is an important part of Pontefract’s heritage and I believe that the NHS has a duty to give it back to us in a reasonable condition, with suitable access and adjoining land which enables its practical use.

“While the financial problems of the NHS are a concern to us all, short term financial considerations must not endanger the future of this important heritage asset.”

Once the group, which formed in 2013, owns the building, it plans to issues community shares and encourage local people to invest in the project.

Dr White said around £3m would need to be raised to match grant funding.

Iain Brodie, general manager for estates and facilities at The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We are continuing to work closely with the Pontefract Heritage Partnership group.

“Whilst there are a number of ongoing matters which are still to be resolved, we have agreement in principle for the Pontefract Dispensary and Hermitage assets to be transferred over to them.”

Pontefract Hermitage is named on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register and is described as being in a ‘poor condition’.