PRESS RELEASE: Aykley Heads Police Radio Mast

Twentieth Century Society and The City of Durham Trust are objecting to a planning proposal to “demolish” the Radio Mast at Aykley Heads Police Headquarters.

Remarkably, the application is to demolish a mast that has not been erected – or rather, re-erected. It was taken down in 2017, when Durham police moved their headquarters at Aykley Heads.

Designed by the office of the celebrated Ove Arup – who engineered Sydney Opera House and Durham City’s own Kingsgate Bridge (1963) – the space age concrete Radio Mast was installed in 1968 and is Grade II Listed. Its elegant structure forms a tripod from which the communications mast rises. It was a condition of the planning permission to allow a housing development on the old police headquarters site that the mast be retained and re-erected at Aykley Heads.

To the dismay of the City of Durham Trust, which has issued frequent reminders to the police to fulfil the terms of their planning consent, the mast is now the subject of a proposed “demolition”.

The City of Durham Trust is concerned that the mast’s architectural value to Durham’s skyline should not be easily cast aside, but should be kept as one of the city’s few 20th Century assets. The Police Radio Mast is a terrific statement on Durham’s engagement in cutting edge technology in the 20th Century. Durham Police now claim that the mast is no longer able to be erected, having deteriorated while lying on the ground for five years. The City of Durham Trust is objecting to the planning proposal to demolish the mast on the grounds that neglecting to maintain the structure is not a sound reason for applying for planning consent to be rid of it. It is an important principle in the planning process that neglect is not a cause for demolition – otherwise, anyone could allow a Listed building to deteriorate if they wished to see it demolished.

Video links

Durham NARPO (National Association Retired Police Officers): Radio Mast from ‘old’ Police HQ on the move

BFI (British Film Institute) Player: Radio Mast for Police Headquarters, Aykley Heads, Durham

County Council ignores its own Plan

The Durham Advertiser has published this letter from the Trust’s Chair:

Your headline on page 2 of last week’s Durham Advertiser proclaimed that energy efficiency will be at the heart of all Durham County Council’s projects. It was claimed that what the Council has learned through its involvement in an international climate change scheme (REBUS) has influenced its own projects.

Only a fortnight earlier the County Planning Committee had voted in favour of the Council’s development of the Aykley Heads Business Park, despite acknowledging that the first building on the site would not meet the energy standards required by its own Policy 29 in the newly adopted County Durham Plan.

The reason given for wanting this building to be approved was that there wasn’t time to re-design it to meet the required energy standards if the Council was to qualify for government funding to cover half the cost. This is entirely specious. The REBUS collaboration had been going on for four years. Similar energy efficiency requirements had already been clearly set out in the June 2018 Preferred Options stage of the County Durham Plan. Indeed, measures to respond to the climate emergency were contained in a version of the County Plan as far back as 2013.

The Council has done the right thing in proclaiming a climate emergency, but is it responding to it seriously? What sort of example does the County Council’s approval of this substandard scheme for the flagship building in the business park at Aykely Heads set for commercial developers? What is the point of the newly adopted County Durham Plan if the County Council itself can ignore it at the first significant hurdle?

John Lowe
Chair, City of Durham Trust