The City of Durham Trust

The sorry saga

With final approval having been given by the Secretary of State to allow the re-positioning of the two listed statues of Lord Londonderry and Neptune, it’s time to put on record why the Trust, along with an overwhelming number of local people, opposed these changes. As explained elsewhere, Trustees seriously considered mounting a legal challenge but given that the chance of success was put at no more than 50%, and potentially ruinous costs, they reluctantly decided not to proceed.

On 3rd July 2009 Durham County Council, acting on behalf of Durham City Vision, lodged three planning applications with itself for proposed works in the Market Place, including the moving of the statue of Lord Londonderry. The City of Durham Trust welcomed parts of this project, but objected to the proposal to re-site the statue. Amended plans were placed on the Council web site on 2 September, and the Trust maintained its opposition since they were very little changed, as the plans on this page demonstrate.

On November 10th Durham County Council's Planning Committee approved the Market Place planning applications, by a majority of 8-6. The Trust's Secretary, Dr Douglas Pocock, addressed the committee. Both Londonderry and Neptune are listed, and listed building consent is needed to move them. Because the Council was the applicant, they did not have the final say. The issue now had considered by the Secretary of State.

The Trust, along with other objectors, felt that the committee report put to the meeting did not accurately summarise the requirements of PPG15, the statutory planning guidance on Planning and the Historic Environment. Nor did it mention at all the recently issued Circular 07/09: Protection of World Heritage Sites, which is relevant because the Market Place lies in the buffer zone of the Durham Cathedral and Castle World Heritage Site. The Trust and other objectors raised these points with the authorities.

However, on 19th January 2010, the Secretary of State gave his decision to approve the applications. The Trust took urgent legal advice to see if this could be challenged but, as explained above, was advised that the chance of success was not high enough to justify the very high costs involved.

Why did the Trust object?

Londonderry statue in Durham Market Place © One NorthEast 2005

Image Copyright © One NorthEast 2005

Londonderry statue from the Town Hall

View from the Town Hall. Photo: Jean Rogers

Trustees considered the applications in depth. We welcomed several aspects of the Heart of the City Regeneration project, but objected to the proposal to re-site the statue on the following grounds:

  1. In terms of history, architecture and alignment the Equestrian Statue forms a mid-19th century grouping of three listed structures along with the Town Hall and St Nicholas Church.
  2. The Statue is the heart of the ‘square.’ It plays a pivotal role, giving coherence to the Market Place, and is a popular meeting point.
  3. The Statue is the focal point from all three entrances to the Market Place.
  4. The proposed new site will leave the tall Statue side-lined, a bystander looking down over a barren Market Place for most of the time, except when ‘events’ are taking place.

The proposals that we welcomed were:

  1. The restriction of traffic in and through the Market Place, which we said will produce a more pleasant environment.
  2. Renewed paving, which is urgently needed.
  3. Improvements to shop fronts.
  4. The proposal to produce an integrated signage scheme.
  5. With reservations,the lighting scheme.

The Trust also organised a petition, writing to all our members, holding a stall in the market place, and running an online petition. In little over a month we collected 5,555 signatures to the petition and these were handed over to Durham County Council on Wednesday 12th August.

This is a magnificent response, probably the biggest the city has ever seen, and shows immense public support for the stand the Trust has taken. Durham City Vision have claimed that a majority of citizens are happy to see the Equestrian Statue moved. The size of the response, and the feelings expressed by the people we met signing the petition, show that this is not the case. The story has been covered in the Northern Echo and other local media.

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