Derelict buildings at Sunderland’s Cherry Knowle hospital, a former asylum in Ryhope, are being cleared to make way for more than 750 homes.
In recent years, the site had become a magnet for ghost hunters, with police issuing repeated warnings that people were putting their lives at risk by breaking into the buildings.
The 43-week development programme is being undertaken by North East demolition specialists Thompson’s of Prudhoe on behalf of site owners the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), with work expected to complete on site around the end of the year.
“This is a major step forward for Cherry Knowle, paving the way for up to 770 new homes on the site,” said John Calvert, investment and regeneration manager at the HCA. “It’s a challenging project, but it can bring real benefits in the form of homes for sale and rent just three miles from the city centre, with easy access to the countryside.”
The works will see Thompson’s demolish the Laurels building, which has stood empty since the 1990s, along with other nearby and adjoining buildings.
Demolition will open up the first phase of development on the 47-hectare site, with a planning application anticipated later this year. Work on the new housing, which will include affordable homes as well as houses for sale, is expected to start before the end of 2012.
The scheme will also enable a new link road to be built between Ryhope and Doxford, providing an additional benefit for south Sunderland.
Nick Shilling of Thompson’s said: “This is a complex scheme with a number of issues to manage, including safe removal of bats, which are a protected species. The partners have made a commitment to minimise any disruption to our neighbours as well as supporting a public liaison group for the community to raise any questions that may arise.”
The scheme’s partners plan to retain original architectural features such as foundation stones and doorways where this is possible, while the green belt land close to the buildings will be unaffected. Demolition traffic will be restricted to minimise any impact on road users and other local facilities at peak times of day.
Mental health and learning disability services at the adjacent Ryhope Hospital will be unaffected, with Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust currently working closely with Sunderland Council and other key partners on a £50m plan for new facilities at Ryhope Hospital and at nearby Monkwearmouth Hospital.
“The Laurels has been a landmark building and a vital part of the local community for over a century. It provided both employment and vital care for local people,” said Jules Preston MBE, Chairman of Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust. “However, it was built in Victorian times when mental health and disability services were very different from what they are today.
“The new hospital will be purpose-built, designed around the care and treatment needs of our service users. It will help to modernise essential mental health and disability services.”
The 19th-century Laurels block at the hospital (pictured) has featured on websites dedicated to haunted buildings.
It gained notoriety after the Sunderland Echo described it as the 'most haunted hospital' in the UK and subsequently the derelict block was broken into on a number of occasions by paranormal enthusiasts and bands of urban explorers.
In addition to ghosthunters, the site has also been targeted by vandals, yobs and underage drinkers.
Northumbria Police warned that it may also contain asbestos and ordered unwanted visitors to stay away.
Opened in 1895, the facility comprises six wards on either side of a combined chapel and recreation hall. An isolation hospital and infirmary block were added in 1902.
In the 1930s, an admissions hospital and wartime emergency medical huts were constructed nearby, which became Ryhope General Hospital. The rest of the site became known as Cherry Knowle Hospital when it was acquired by the NHS in 1948.
As community care replaced the long term stay facilities, the original asylum at Cherry Knowle, or Laurels block, eventually closed in the late 1990s while other satellite buildings were retained for use by mental health organisations.