The City of Durham Trust

The County Durham Plan

Trust Responses to the 2019 Pre-Submission Draft

Consultation on the 2019 Pre-Submission Draft of the County Durham Plan closed on March 8th 2019. The Trust submitted comments on 25 policies, three paragraphs and Appendix A. While there were some policies we were pleased to support, we regretted that the damaging policies relating to new housing in the Green Belt and “relief roads”, so comprehensively criticised by the Inspector in 2014, have not been withdrawn.

These are the Trust’s comments, summarised below with links to the full documents as PDFs:

Nature of consultation
We are concerned that, although responses at this Pre-Submission stage have to be on ‘Soundness’ and should set out in what way we either agree or disagree with the policy being positively prepared, justified, effective, and consistent with national policy, there is not a single mention of this in the Pre-Submission Plan document. Paragraphs 1.9 to 1.16 explain the procedure in a misleading way.
Key document missing
Paragraph 3.1 references the County Durham Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) but the link is to a web page that does not exist. If you click the link you get an Error 404 - Page not found message. Paragraph 3.1 concludes “The spatial vision for the Plan needs to reflect the SCS and the key challenges and issues facing the county.” However the SCS is not included in the evidence base, and the document that is being implied is more than nine years out of date, precedes Brexit, and the Council is in the middle of updating it. Consequently the Spatial Vision lacks a justification. The same issue infects the Objectives in Paragraph 3.2, which are plauible but without a sound basis.
Quantity of Development
Policy 1 overestimates the number of new houses required in County Durham
Aykley Heads
While broadly welcoming the changes to Policy 3 that mean it does not extend into the Green Belt, the Trust feels the amount of car parking is excessive and does not meet the sustainability requirements of the NPPF (the National Planning Policy Framework).
Housing Allocations
Policy 4 allocates over 42% of the additional County housing development allocation to Durham City. This is a severely unbalanced strategy and misleads the County Council into proposing major deletions of the Green Belt and unnecessary Relief Roads. Our objections to the distribution of housing are elaborated on in our comments on paragraphs 4.60 to 4.76.
New Housing Sites in the Green Belt
The Trust argues that Policy 5 should be deleted.
Visitor Attractions
The Trust supports Policy 7.
Visitor Accommodation
The City of Durham Trust supports Policy 8 in principle but considers that it should be amended to recognise the issues around Airbnb as a growing problem regarding adverse impacts on residential amenity from ‘pop-up parties’, work-gangs and prostitution.
Retail Hierarchy and Town Centre Development
Policy 9 does not address the major adverse impact on the Durham City retail offer from the replacement of permanent residents with student residents over recent decades such that less than half of the population of the City of Durham Parish are here only half of the year. However, the Trust welcomes that the policy is now explicitly supportive of residential uses within the town centre and the contribution that they can make.
Equestrian development
The Trust proposes the correction of a cross-referencing error in Policy 13.
Addressing Housing Need
Policy 15 fails to provide for the housing need of elderly people. It should require that 50% of all new housing must either be designed specifically for older people, or designed to a lifetime standard so that their residents can continue to live in them throughout their lifetime.
Durham University Development, Purpose Built Student Accommodation and Houses in Multiple Occupation
In a lengthy and multi-faceted response, the Trust considers that Policy 16 should be split into a strategic policy for the University’s development and for the six identified PBSAs and then non-strategic policies for development management criteria for PBSAs and for HMOs. It should be far more critical of the University’s expansion plans. New PBSAs should only be built on the University’s estate. Enshrining the Interim Policy on Student Accommodation in the Plan is welcomed, but it should resist extensions to existing student HMOs.
Green Belt
Policy 20 is welcomed in principle, but it needs supporting text to strengthen it, since the County Council has been approving too many applications that claim “special circumstances”.
Non-Strategic Green Belt Amendments
For unexplained reasons, Policy 21 is categorised as a strategic policy. The Trust opposes this, and also the deletions from the Green Belt of the former police skid pan and Fernhill.
Delivering Sustainable Transport
While the Trust supports parts of Policy 22 as worthwhile planning conditions to ensure that new development meets sustainable transport criteria, the Trust’s view is that these conditions should be included in a substantially-reworded Policy that provides a more comprehensive and proactive basis for delivering sustainable transport. It ought to be a fully strategic county-wide policy, whose aims determine more regional policies such as Policy 23 on Durham City, which is logically a subset of Policy 22.
Durham City “Sustainable Transport” (including proposals for relief roads)
The Trust’s response to Policy 23 runs to 40 pages. While the Trust wholeheartedly supports the principle of sustainable transport, the Policy as drafted does not accord with that principle, and largely amounts to a re-badging of previously-rejected proposals for relief roads. The Trust is totally opposed to the Policy’s underlying proposition, that major new road building is a necessary precondition for the delivery of sustainable transport in the city and its surrounding area.
Allocating and Safeguarding Transport Routes and Facilities
In its response to Policy 24 the Trust proposes safeguarding the route of the disused branch from Leamside to the East Coast main line. The Trust also considers that the cycling routes proposed for safeguarding in the withdrawn County Plan of 2014 and promised in the County Durham Strategic Cycling and Walking Delivery Plan 2019-2029 should be safeguarded. The route for National Cycle Network route 14 can be improved as part of the Sherburn Retail Link Road.
Provision of Transport Infrastructure
The Trust objected to Policy 25 because it is ambiguously worded and has no mechanism for resolving any conflicts between the objectives listed. Our contention is that it should be strengthened by including a requirement for a proper cost/benefit analysis.
Sustainable Design
The Trust objected to Policy 30 because it unsuccessfully attempts to merge what were two policies at the Preferred Options stage: the first with General Development Principles and the other Sustainable Design in the Built Environment. These address different aspects of design, and the Trust recommends that they again be separate policies.
Hot Food Takeaways
The Trust supports Policy 31 but it needs to define what it means by college to be effective.
Amenity and Pollution
The Trust supports Policy 32, especially given the serious air pollution problems in the City.
Trees, Woodlands and Hedges
The Trust welcomes Policy 41 because the tree groups within and around Durham City are absolutely crucial components of its exceptional qualities and must be managed and maintained; too many have been lost as collateral damage on development sites.
Historic Environment
Policy 45 provides the tools to prevent damage to that historic environment. The Trust supports it.
Durham Castle and Cathedral World Heritage Site
Policy 46 is one that the Trust very much welcomes as a whole. We are pleased that our comments at the Preferred Options stage, that it was generic and not specific to Durham, have been taken on board. We did however feel it needs to anticipate the probable extension of the site.
Natural Building and Roofing Stone
The Trust generally supports Policy 55, but a cross-referencing error needs to be corrected.
Reopening of Relic Building Stone Quarries for Heritage Projects
The City of Durham Trust supports Policy 56. It is a proportionate measure to enable historic buildings to be maintained and repaired using appropriate materials that match the existing fabric.
Strategic Area of Search to the South of Todhills Brickworks
Policy 60 needs to be amended to correct a cross-referencing error.
Appendix A
Appendix A lists strategic policies without any explanation as to why they are deemed to be strategic, or why the other policies are deemed to be non-strategic. Nor could we find any explanations in the individual policies or their supporting text. Paragraph 21 of the NPPF sets criteria for designating a policy as strategic. Without any explanations it is impossible to assess conformity with this paragraph.