The disputed section of common land is that part of the Sands that was used as a coach park. It is also used in support of events on the Sands and in the City. Local people value it as an access to the riverside and its trees for their contribution to the environment. The rights over the common land are held by the Freemen of the City of Durham and they had given permission for the use of that section of the Sands as a coach park because they saw that as something of benefit to the city. The problem arose when the land was appropriated for use by the contractors building the new Durham County Council HQ on the adjoining car park. Once the building is completed the intention is to use the space as a car park for County Councillors.
This appropriation is being challenged by the Freemen, the City of Durham Parish Council, the City of Durham Trust, and several local residents. DCC is offering in exchange an area of land in the Aykley Wood Nature Reserve that is currently fenced for the protection of ground-nesting birds. The objectors are not happy that this is a satisfactorily accessible alternative or, indeed, that the land should have been appropriated in the first place.
The inquiry will be conducted by an inspector from the Planning Inspectorate. It is scheduled to take place from 10.00 to 16.00 on five days from 27 – 29 April and 11 & 12 May. The inquiry is a public event and can be viewed on YouTube.
The above is a very basic summary of the case. DCC’s documentation alone runs to 1163 pages and barristers have been engaged by both sides.