The Trust responds to local or national consultations as they affect the City of Durham. The consultation issue is briefly summarised below and the Trust’s full response is available for viewing and download. Older responses to consultations and planning proposals (pre February 2020) are available.
Active Travel England’s role in the spatial planning system Active Travel England (ATE) is the government’s executive agency responsible for improving the standards of cycling and walking infrastructure in England. It is sponsored by the Department for Transport (DfT). It was launched in January 2022. DfT published a stakeholder survey (closing date 13th April 2022) , seeking views on ATE’s role as a centre of excellence for planning for active travel infrastructure and as a statutory consultee on major planning applications. ATE will support the Government’s strategy for walking and cycling – ‘Gear Change 2020’.
Parliamentary constituencies boundary review The Boundary Commission for England “is undertaking an independent and impartial review of all constituencies in England, to make the number of electors in each constituency roughly the same. The number of constituencies in England will also increase to 543. The 2023 Boundary Review requires substantial changes to the map of constituencies across England”. The first consultation on this review took place over June and July 2021. The Trust put in a response: the main tenor of which was that the new proposals split off from Durham City settlements close to the City that have historical and current connections (i.e. Langley Moor, Meadowfield, Brandon, Ushaw Moor, Bearpark and Witton Gilbert) and place it with settlements where there are no such connections (i.e. Houghton-le-Spring, Hetton-le-Hole and Easington Lane). The Trust presented a detailed alternative proposal: “The new constituency needs to be built from the centre out. At its core should be the wards of Elvet and Gilesgate, Neville’s Cross, Durham South, Framwellgate and Newton Hall, Belmont, Brandon, Deerness and the Witton Gilbert part of Esh and Witton Gilbert. The electorate here would be 54,981. To these core wards we would add Sherburn (6,722 electors) and Coxhoe (9,779 electors), bringing the total electorate to 71,482.” The Commission launched a secondary consultation in February and March 2022 to which the Trust also responded. The Trust reiterated their alternative proposal, which was in agreement with other local responses to the first consultation: “Having considered the representations on the BCE website, we have found overwhelming support from local people, with reasoned arguments, for the arguments we have advanced. This has strengthened the case we made in representation reference BCE-73166, which stands without any further amendment and supported by the arguments in this document.” BCE consultation website.
Sniperley Park Masterplan Sniperley Park is one of two “sustainable urban extensions” to be built on land taken from the Green Belt by the County Durham Plan. The other is at Bent House Lane, Sherburn. Between them they will accommodate over 2000 houses. The County Durham Plan stipulates in Policy 5 that each site should be required to conform to a comprehensive masterplan that sets out the general layout and phasing of the development, including the necessary community facilities for health, education and recreation, as well as promoting sustainable travel to and within the sites. We commend what the County Council has proposed and also move beyond that with further proposals to enhance the design quality of the houses, improve the spatial layout of the site, promote energy efficiency with recommendations about a district heating system and, above all, encouraage sustainable travel so that there is good connectivity between the site and neighbouring facilities. Consultation page.
Durham City Framework It is very useful to see the committed and potential projects for Durham City in one place, and have them set in a strategic framework for future development. There is much to support and welcome in the document. However, the emphasis in the consultation draft is very much on economic potential; whilst the sensitivity of Durham’s historic and natural environment this seems to be a secondary consideration. The Trust urges a more explicit recognition that the strategic setting for development here is given by the approved County Durham Plan with finer-grain detail in the Durham City Neighbourhood Plan. The strategy and development policies in the Plans are there to ensure that enthusiasm for economic development accords with the essential requirement to protect and enhance those historic and environmental qualities that make Durham City such an attractive location for investment. Consultation page
North of England Decarbonisation Strategy The Trust has responded to the detailed consultation on Transport North East’s Decarbonisation Strategy. The strategy developed by political and business groups in the region through Transport for the North (TfN), sets out the ambitious goal of achieving near-zero carbon emissions from surface transport by 2045. Overall this is a well evidenced plan, and the Trust supports its high-level findings, though not all of its detailed proposals for how delivery should be achieved. It is good to see TfN highlighting policy areas where national government needs to go further, but it is also important that the document’s evidence is used to convince local delivery partners of the urgency of these issues. The challenge will be in creating momentum, especially among local authority partners who are probably under-resourced for the pace of change that has to be delivered. It is also essential that decarbonisation at the local level is integrated into local authority planning, place-making and with the social justice agenda. There must be a role for civic amenity organisations such as the City of Durham Trust in developing such work as the “clean mobility vision for the North”. The “policy baskets” for different place typologies are another area in which local organisations may be able to help. There urgently needs to be examination of the scope for the Workplace Parking Levy, reduction in parking provision, and congestion charging. Some authorities in the area have introduced regressive charging zones which penalise bus operators but do not charge private car users. TfN could take a lead on this. The other main concern is the evaluation of progress only at 5 year intervals, with the next being in 2025. An interim evaluation point of 2023 is needed to give early assurance that the plan is on track. TfN press release and Strategy and Consultation page.
Permitted Development Rights Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) allow certain types of building work to b carried out without the need for planning permission. The Trust considers that basic changes to buildings in non-sensitive areas are of minimal impact and PDRs have a role in avoiding undue bureaucracy and burdening the planning system with unnecessary applications. However, Conservation Areas and settings to listed buildings and other heritage or natural assets are sensitive areas. Their significance and quality can be eroded by even modest changes and there should be no expansion of permitted development rights for these areas. It remains to be seen whether current extensions to permitted development are having a negative impact. For the Trust the changes do not tackle core planning issues for Durham City and may add to them. Heritage impact is generally grossly underrepresented in considering PDR change and the contribution to new housing overrated. PDR consultation https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/supporting-housing-delivery-and-public-service-infrastructure/supporting-housing-delivery-and-public-service-infrastructure
National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is the government’s planning policies for England. The Trust welcomes many of the changes. However, it is particularly critical about the idea of restricting the use of Article 4 directions (which control student accomodation), especially when linked with the proposed increase in permitted development rights (e.g. where no planning permission will be required to turn retail premises into residential properties). In the Durham context, where student accommodation is the most profitable for property owners, the whole of the city centre retail is at risk if the market could determine the use of land. We need housing for permanent residents, and there is a particular shortfall in housing for the elderly. What is not needed is further encouragement for the town centre to become student dominated. The Trust welcomes the proposed Model Design Code, and suggest some improvements. The Trust has already noted its concern about how the Model Design Code might act as a default Code where there is no local advice and this needs further thought. One overriding concern is that the code is complex and wide ranging and not easy for community groups to relate to. It seems that some professionals will also find the approach ‘complex’ as will the Local Authority. What is genuinely concerning is that the production of codes and the very welcome community engagement approach are resource intensive in terms of professionals and cost. The Trust doubts that, given the parlous state of local authority finances and reduced numbers of professional staff, there is a sufficient resource to produce Codes. The large developers seem unlikely to willingly produce Codes at the suggested depth and intensity. The Trust believes strongly in community engagement, but both our local authority and major developers treat it with minimum respect, consulting only shortly before planning applications are made to establish what objections there might be and then answering them in subsequent reports. No meaningful change is made. We are unsure how codes may be produced given this context. National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code Consultation https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/national-planning-policy-framework-and-national-model-design-code-consultation-proposals
Air Quality in Durham City It is proposed to extend the Air Quality Management Area (where poluution levels exceed the national maximum) to include part of Church Street. The Trust supports this, but queries why it has taken so long to bring this issue to consultation (it was first proposed in 2018) and asks where are the implementation reports on the action points in the 2016 Action Plan and is this Plan to be updated? Air pollution is a serious health and environmental problem. Air Quality in Durham City webpage https://www.durham.gov.uk/article/3825/Air-quality-in-Durham-City
Reform of the Right to Contest The ‘Community Right to Contest’ allows members of the public to request that the government directs the disposal of unused or underused land, including vacant homes and garages, owned by public bodies. The aim of this consultation is to strengthen the right and make it simpler to use as the new ‘Right to Regenerate’. Reform of the Right to Contest Consultation https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/right-to-regenerate-reform-of-the-right-to-contest The Trust’s view is that it has yet to see adequate analysis of the outcome of the current rights to contest and the scope of land it can apply to. It can see use for community organisations but remains sceptical about the potential for public land moving into private control with inadequate public consultation, participation and agreement.
Parking and Accessibility Supplementary Planning Document In 2019 Durham County Council (DCC) declared a climate emergency. Transport is one of the top three priorities identified for action in DCC’s Climate Emergency Response: Action Plan 2020 to 202, but the need to reduce car journeys is not recognised in the action plan. Against this backdrop DCC has produced a Parking and Accessibility SPD: Issues and Options Consultation document which is narrow in scope and does not make full use of the powers available to the authority to promote sustainable transport in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework. The Trust’s response includes a detailed analysis of the issue, looks at actions taken by other councils as exemplars, and makes recommendations on how the SPD could be improved and made more effective. SPD consultation webpage.
Article 4 Direction The City of Durham Trust is pleased to support the proposed Article 4 Direction for the areas of Mount Oswald, Belmont and Carrville. The four reasons given by Durham County Council are entirely valid and were explained very clearly in the recent consultation events. They are also supported by the City of Durham Parish Council’s excellent evidence report. The Trust agrees with the Parish Council that eventually the whole Parish area should be covered by an Article 4 Direction, but that should follow as a result of a separate proposal and consultation process. We have no intention of delaying the implementation of the current proposal. The Trust would also wish to see the forthcoming significant housing developments at Bent House Lane and Sniperley Park protected from the development of HMOs. They have unbalanced many older parts of the City and we would not wish the same to happen to these new areas. We understand that an Article 4 Direction cannot be applied to areas as yet unbuilt, but we think that planning conditions should be applied to protect them. Multiple occupancy homes webpageArticle 4 consultation webpage
Supporting housing delivery through a new national permitted development right for the change of use from the Commercial, Business and Service use class to Residential The Trust’s response highlighted the need to protect conservation areas (such as the Durham City Conservation Area and the World Heritage Site) from adverse effects of such a change. Supporting housing delivery webpage.
North East Transport Plan The Trust endorses the overall vision of “Moving to a green, healthy, dynamic and thriving North East”, and accepts in broad terms its stated objectives, but finds its practical suggestions for achieving them woefully inadequate. They do not form a coherent regional strategy and amount to little more than a wish list of projects that the 7 local authorities in the area wish to pursue in the hope of obtaining government funding. It is of particular interest that the plan ignores the key links between County Durham and the Tees Valley which doesn’t come within the remit of the North East Transport Plan.North East Transport Plan webpage.
Sherburn ‘Sustainable Urban Extension’ This is one of the two major housing developments agreed in the Durham County Plan. The other is at Sniperley. These developments will have major impacts on the City of Durham. The Trust has therefore engaged in a number of ways with developers and Durham County Council to try and ensure that high quality, sustainable development will be achieved at these locations, as required by the relevant policies in the Durham County Plan. The Trust considers that the proposed Bent House Lane development lacks proper consideration of a number of crucial issues: e.g. master planning; sustainable transport; effect on landscape, heritage and the setting of the World Heritage Site; sustainable energy. As a consequence it has objected to the current proposals.
Sniperley ‘Sustainable Urban Extension’ This is one of the two major housing developments agreed in the Durham County Plan. The other is at Sherburn. These developments will have major impacts on the City of Durham. The Trust has therefore engaged in a number of ways with developers and Durham County Council to try and ensure that high quality, sustainable development will be achieved at these locations, as required by the relevant policies in the Durham County Plan.
Aykley Heads Development While the Trust remains supportive of this initiative to broaden and develop the economy of the City and County, it idntified a range of concerns with the proposals: these cover the nature of the proposals, their context, arising issues and suggestions for a way forward. Additionally, an appropriate timetable is needed to allow sufficient time to absorb the implications of the Covid pandemic and to ensure that the scheme is not taken forward on the basis of planning and delivery assumptions that are no longer appropriate to changing circumstances.
Making Walking and Cycling Safer The twin imperatives to facilitate social distancing and to avoid increasing the pressure on public buses will have a clear impact on street use and controlling the flows of pedestrian, cycle and motor traffic. Measures need taking now to re-purpose space on the City’s streets before motor traffic returns to previous volumes. We can regain the streets for pedestrians and cyclists, plus wheelchair users and pram pushers, if the County Council Highways Authority takes immediate action. This is already being done in cities across the country and is much needed in Durham where street space is at a premium.
Common Land on the Sands The Trust objected to the County Council’s plans to remove the Common Land from the Sands and replace it with land at Aykley Heads. The Trust supported the views of the City of Durham Parish Council and the Freemen of the City of Durham who are also opposed to this move.
Bus Station The Trust warmly welcomes Durham County Council’s (DCC’s) decision to reflect earlier consultation responses by abandoning its previous proposals to relocate the bus station. The Trust agrees that redevelopment of the bus station on its present site is the correct way forward. However, the Trust sees issues in the function and design approach to the building.