Although detailed planning permission for the Walkergate scheme was granted in September, no obvious site work has begun. Meanwhile, it is reported that the general delay is incurring the city(izens) a penalty payment of £140,000 a month. It is speculation whether the delay is related to the obtaining of Liquor Licences, but it does appear that the success of the projected leisure complex is being predicated on drink. Of course, drink can be consumed in a wide range of places and settings but, given the exponential growth of existing and proposed licensed premises in the city, apprehension has rightly been raised over the social consequences of over-development. To this end, members' attention is drawn to a sitting of the Licensing Justices at the Magistrates' Court in Old Elvet at 11 am on 23 March (continuing on 24 March if necessary) when AMEC will apply for several licences, including one for a large night club, to which even the police are currently opposed.
Concerned members of the public, not least Trustees, have been frustrated by AMEC's approach to the Licensing Authorities hitherto by block applications, lack of detailed plans, and last-minute requested adjournment. At the most recent hearing on 31 January, AMEC yet again asked for a further adjournment, promising details of the proposed operator. Magistrates very reluctantly and with obvious annoyance granted the adjournment until 23 March for a further two-day hearing.
It appears that yet another restaurant has been added to the complex for which a licence is sought. Known as Restaurant 8, it occupies the area shown as a cinema foyer on the plans given detailed planning permission last autumn. The appropriate alterations to these plans were only lodged with the Planning Authority two weeks after the adjourned hearing.
Although the granting of planning permission and licences for alcohol consumption belong to different authorities, the Council approved a commendable Licensing Strategy in April 1999 as part of a co-ordinated policy which stated that it would advocate new licensed premises "only on the basis that they can be assimilated into the sensitive urban fabric of the City and do not infringe upon the quality of life and public protection". In the present context, therefore, the Local Authority must consider the Walkergate Licence applications - the 2,000 capacity night club in particular - in relation to other large promised drinking premises.
Adjacent, along the riverside at the rear of Durham Markets, planning permission has been obtained for a huge establishment. However, magistrates turned down an application for a licence (see our lead story). Meanwhile just across the road on the Brown's Boathouse site, a provisional licence has already been granted to Ultimate Leisure Ltd for the biggest pub in Durham with a projected capacity of 1,000 patrons.
It is acknowledged that cities today are increasingly becoming centres of consumption, rather than production, but if members feel strongly on the evolving pattern of leisure consumption in our city - perhaps fearing it will soon be awash - and are able to attend the Licensing hearing on 23/24 March, Trustees would urge you to do so. The Licensing Committee has shown it listens carefully to objectors and that it will take decisions that are unpopular with developers, if necessary. Let us hope we have turned the corner.
(This is an amended version of the article in the printed Bulletin, updated to take account of developments since that went to press. Further news will appear here as and when it occurs.)