The City of Durham Trust

Inspector's Report vindicates Trust

Over a year ago, welcoming the decision to call in the planning application for 99 flats on the site of the former ice rink, we said “The Trust believes that the Councillors who took the decision to approve were not in full possession of the facts. We hope and believe that when the full picture is put to the public inquiry a different decision will be reached.” This predicition has come true: the Inspector turned down the application and supported four of the five main points that the Trust made.

The Inspector's Report of the called-in Inquiry into proposals for the former Ice Rink site was released in late October. The Trust's case was comprehensively vindicated. The following quotations from the Report will show the extent to which the Inspector rejected the case put by the City Authority and for the developers.

  1. There was a Surplus of Housing:
    “There is an overprovision of housing in relation to the requirements of the Local Plan and Regional Spatial Strategy” (para 76).
    “There is no need for the housing proposed.” (para 80)
  2. The proposed Building was inappropriate for the site:
    “...given its scale and massing in particular, the proposed development would not be of high quality, would not integrate with the existing urban form of the area or with the natural or built environment” (para 79).
    “...given their height and scale relative to the Walkergate complex, their proximity to the river bank, and the uncomplementary north elevation, the proposed apartment buildings would be prominent and intrusive in views from Millburngate Bridge, from Penny Ferry Bridge, from the north of the site and from Framwellgate Waterside” (para 68).
  3. The proposed Development was unsympathetic to the Conservation Area and to the World Heritage Site:
    “The proposed development would harm the character and appearance of the Durham Conservation Area....and would harm the setting of the World Heritage Site and the important listed buildings” (para 77).
  4. The iconic View from Prebends' Bridge would be seriously harmed:
    “The apartment building more prominent and intrusive in the view from Prebends' Bridge than the existing building....In any event, harmful development elsewhere does not provide justification for allowing a proposed development that would intrude to a greater extent than the existing building and would seriously detract from the view north from Prebends' Bridge” (para 74).
  5. Bishop's Mill should, and could, be conserved:
    “The mill building may well be a replacement for one or more earlier buildings and it does, in this regard, serve as a reminder of the gradual development of the settlement. However, the historical associations have been undermined by previous alterations and extensions” (para 70).
    “If it were retained and renovated for re-use it is likely that future frequent flooding would result in the building being vacated and becoming quickly dilapidated and unattractive” (para 71).

Only with regard to Bishop's Mill, then, did the Inspector (and Secretary of State) disagree with the Trust's case. Overall, given his comprehensive disapproval of the project, one is surely justified in querying the judgement of the Planning Officer, who had instructed the Development Control Committee that “ a refusal could not in the circumstances be reasonably upheld.”

The reaction of the Leader of the Council, both in the local press and in Council-produced literature, was that it “cost us in excess of £30,000 for the public inquiry.” Such comment also deserves a response. Leaving aside any reference to democratic processes, and responding solely on cost, the overall cost of the Inquiry could have been considerably lower had the Planning Officer, given his confidence in the scheme, - or another member of his staff - presented evidence at the Inquiry. (Instead, a consultant from Manchester argued the planning merits for the Authority - at a cost, it is reported, at £700 per day.) An even greater cost saving would have accrued if the Authority's case had been led by a member of its own legal department, and not by an outside barrister. (The Trust dispensed with legal representation, English Heritage employed a solicitor.)