The City of Durham Trust
A new County Hall?
An article in the latest edition of the Trust’s Bulletin sets out why Trustees are objecting to the County Council’s proposals to build a new headquarters on The Sands in the City Centre.
The proposals drew surprise, if not incredulity, from Trustees from several points of view.
- First, in January of this year a Cabinet paper identified two city centre options to be taken forward, with the one on the west bank demonstrated to be clearly better than that on the east.
- Then, in August, without any explanation, a planning application was submitted for the east bank or Sands Car Park site.
- A further surprise was that, even though the building was to be for the council and to be erected on council-owned land the application was in the name of a developer, Kier.
- Finally, the location chosen is one which is difficult of access, in an area already having to cope with a multiplicity of users, and where the actual site will need flood precautions, besides removal of the city’s only coach park.
The actual planning application by Kier Property cannot surely gain approval from any impartial planning committee. The Bulletin article describes how it misinterprets local and national policy, is totally out of sympathy with the character of the area, and will add to both traffic congestion and air pollution particularly on Providence Row and Claypath. Trustees have submitted four pages arguing for the refusal of the application. In fact, so inept was the proposal and so inappropriate the site that Trustees asked the Authority to withdraw the application.
The County Durham Plan
Trust responds to the Preferred Options consultation
The Bulletin also reports that in July Trustees’ attention had been focused on responding to the consultation on the Authority’s Preferred Options. Although the approach second time round has benefited from the experience of the last EiP and Inspector’s Report, the basic structure remains broadly the same.
The total housing need this time has been calculated using the Government’s standardised approach and is therefore more realistic, although the County’s projected population figure has since declined making the ‘need’ for housing lower than expected. Moreover, given an ageing population, there is a wide mismatch between a projected 87% of extra households in the Plan period being in the 75+ years category, with only 10% of dwellings to be for this group.
Two sections of the City’s Green Belt are retained for housing which again are crucial for financing two proposed relief roads. Broadly, Trustees again argue that the traffic modelling of consultants employed by the Authority is not fit for purpose. Moreover, there is silence on the fact that the possible northern relief road was abandoned as recently as 2005-6 because it was judged not to be cost effective. Since that time traffic flows have actually declined, not least across Millburngate Bridge. The Trust summarises the western relief road as “a solution in search of a problem”, whereas the County calculate that housing development at Sniperley “will justify” the road. (It will certainly be necessary to finance the road.) Both relief roads would have adverse environmental consequences, of course, while the western one traverses a historic battle field.
The University, justifiably, figures more prominently in this Plan. The County’s recent policy on HMOs is included, along with one for PBSA. Although welcomed, both could be strengthened. In general, the Authority appears to grant favoured status to the University, referring to its “evolution”. Trustees do not consider a 43% planned increase in student numbers in ten years to be evolutionary.
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.