The City of Durham Trust
County Hospital Allowed
“A disaster for Durham City” says the Trust
The Inspector’s decision (March 7th) to allow the appeal by Peveril Securities to build student flats at the County Hospital is a disaster for Durham City. This is a site that has great potential, with a historic nineteenth century building at its core, and a superb sustainable location near both bus and rail stations, and close to the city centre shops. To let it go to for unwanted and unneeded student accommodation is a waste, and will blight this area.
The City of Durham Trust and local residents’ group the Crossgate Community Partnership (CCP) made a joint 19-page written submission to Planning Inspector Mrs Yvonne Wright , urging her to refuse the appeal. Both parties and local residents turned up in person at the appeal on 8 December last year to back up the case. But on the day the Council seemed ill-prepared and put forward a very weak case. They failed to challenge manifest errors and misrepresentations in the developer’s case, and were unable to answer straightforward questions of fact from the Inspector. A reading of the Inspector’s report shows many places where the Council could have advanced evidence to support the refusal but did not. As the Inspector makes clear, she could only reach her decision on the basis of the evidence before her.
We argued that the development was contrary to the Interim Student Accommodation Policy, a draft of which was agreed by the Cabinet last summer and consulted on in September and October. This Policy lays out the foundations for balanced communities in the city. The stated plan was to finalise this in November or December, but it has been delayed. The Inspector’s report says “This emerging policy can therefore carry no weight in my decision.”
Council withdraws the County Durham Plan
Plans for the future of County Durham have been set back following Durham County Council’s decision to withdraw the County Durham Plan and produce an ‘amended and refreshed’ version, as part of a compromise deal that also saw the Inspector’s Interim Report quashed.
The City of Durham Trust, along with other objectors, is concerned that the Council intends to re-submit broadly the same policies that the independent Inspector found fault with. We are also disappointed that the Council is disregarding the objectors’ offer to work with them to address the key flaws in the Plan, which are:
- the estimate of the number of houses needed was not just optimistic but unrealistic;
- the case made for building on the Green Belt was flawed;
- the plans for the relief roads around Durham City were unsound; and
- the student accommodation proposals would not achieve balanced communities.
We are urging the Council to take note of the July 10th announcement from Business Secretary Sajid Javid that there is ‘no need’ to build on green belt land to meet government housing targets.
The decision to withdraw the County Durham Plan was made as part of a compromise deal following Durham County Council's judicial review challenging the Inspector’s Interim Report into the County Durham Plan. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) accepted one of Durham County Council’s claims that the Inspector’s conduct of the Examination in Public (EiP) of the Plan might have been procedurally unfair. As a result the DCLG has agreed to quash the Inspector’s Interim Report and his subsequent letter refusing to reopen the hearing sessions.
However the DCLG has not conceded that any of the Inspector’s conclusions were wrong. The only point they have agreed is that the Inspector’s conduct of the EiP was procedurally unfair. They have not elaborated on what this means, but we think that it is likely they accepted that the Inspector should have alerted the Council during the Enquiry that the policies it was presenting were likely to be found unsound.
The Trust was asked to sign up to the compromise deal but refused, as we felt, and still feel, that the Inspector’s conduct of the Enquiry was scrupulously fair. The Friends of the Durham Green Belt have taken a similar line. However all the other parties have signed up and we received legal advice that it was highly likely the compromise, technically a Consent Order, would be agreed even if we persisted in our opposition, which from this point forward would become increasingly expensive. The Trust has therefore decided not to persist in its opposition but to conserve our resources for the future.
Withdrawing the County Durham Plan was the last of the three options that the Inspector put to the Council back in February. “Had the Council accepted that then, the residents of County Durham would be seven months closer to having the County Durham Plan agreed,” said Roger Cornwell, Chair of the City of Durham Trust.
He said: “The objectors who attended the EiP felt that the Inspector, Mr Harold Stephens, was scrupulous. There is a very real risk that after two years or more the County Durham Plan will be found unsound by a new Inspector who will take care not to repeat the apparent errors of his or her predecessor, but will still find the same faults that the first Inspector identified.”
There is more about the County Durham Plan in Bulletin 79, published in October 2015.
The County Durham Plan is important for everyone in County Durham because it will set out the new development that is planned for the county. It contains allocations which show where development will take place and how it will be managed. The Plan also contains policies for determining planning applications. As long as there is planning uncertainty developers will seek to exploit this by pursuing their financial interests regardless of the needs of local communities.