The City of Durham Trust

Trust response to pandemic

The Trust has published an extraordinary Bulletin setting out its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. All meetings of Trustees have been suspended, along with the AGM scheduled for June 10. The Trust continues to function, largely by email, and Trustees continue to respond each week to planning applications.

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Assembly Rooms win Architectural Award

Assembly Rooms

There was a clear winner this year of the Trust’s annual Architectural Award for a new building or major refurbishment. In October 2019, the University’s proscenium arch theatre at 40 North Bailey, the “Assembly Rooms Theatre”, re-opened after 14 months of renovations. This superb refurbishment, financed by £2.5m from the University, has been an example of how close student engagement and dedicated voluntary work can inspire architects to work well beyond the minimum of their brief, achieving far more with their budget than might have been envisaged.

PH Partnership Architects were the main firm responsible, having previously worked on the performance space at the Sir James Knott Hall. There was also vital work from Stage Electrics, a company who help design and install the technical elements of theatres, and the aid of a former colleague from the theatre, Jonny Browning, who worked on the recent renovation of the Mark Hillary Arts Centre in Collingwood College.

The main challenge was to give the theatre acceptable disabled and wheelchair access despite tight spatial constraints. This was achieved by the installation of a platform lift and provision of an audience balcony at the top of auditorium for people in wheelchairs. A small new bar has been built and the box office has been attractively redesigned on the ground floor. The whole building has been redecorated and rewired, and the public spaces fitted with effective acoustic panels. The auditorium has kept a version of the previous red and grey colour scheme, and the fine wooden panelling and the decorated ceiling. Colours are restrained, cheerful but not garish. There are now quieter fold-down chairs, 175 seats (fewer than before, making space for the wheelchair balcony).

More information in the February 2020 edition of the Trust’s Bulletin

The County Durham Plan

The Inspector, Mr William Fieldhouse, has now completed the public sessions of the Examination in Public. The next step will be his post hearings advice note setting out any further work and/or main modifications that are required in addition to those described in his 67 action points issued so far.

Until the final picture is clear, there are only impressions and interim developments to report, but the Trust believes its representations have been well received on the whole. The Inspector seemed sceptical of the supposed benefits of the relief roads, requiring the Council to outline what changes to the Plan would ensue should the roads be dropped (for the Western Relief Road “the Plan’s overall spatial strategy for the distribution of housing would remain largely the same”, and the envisaged developer contributions towards the cost of the road would simply be redirected at other measures against congestion, while the Northern Relief could be dropped with no other change in policy).

Mr Fieldhouse was supportive of measures to restrict the building of extensions to homes in multiple occupation (student houses) in Durham City, requesting the Council to draft a main modification making such extensions subject to the same restrictions on the allowed density of students’ units as already apply to whole buildings. He insisted that the Council delete a reference to the possibility of building on a large, additional area of Green Belt at Aykley Heads after the current plan period ends (the site supporting the Council’s widely advertised, if fictional, “6,000 new jobs”).

There is more about the County Durham Plan in Bulletin 88, just published, and we have a web page with a full list of the Trust’s responses.

Bulletin 88 published

The February 2020 edition of the Trust’s Bulletin has now been published, and a PDF may be downloaded via that link. As well as the items previewed above, it covers the Neighbourhood Plan for Durham City, the Architectural Award and City centre developments.