PRESS RELEASE: Developers withdraw from Sniperley Park Public Inquiry

The City of Durham Trust has welcomed the news, on 3 November, that developers have withdrawn from the proposed public inquiry into their plans for a major housing development at Sniperley Park on the outskirts of Durham. The Inquiry has now been abandoned.

This happened after the Planning Inspector had refused a belated attempt to shoehorn in changes to the applications after the appeals had been submitted. The County Council robustly opposed this and the Inspector has backed the Council. The Trust applauds the Council’s stand and urges that the letter of the County Plan’s policies continue to be honoured when considering any renewed applications.

The approved County Durham Plan allocates 1,700 houses to be built as a “sustainable urban expansion” at Sniperley Park on former green belt land west of the A167. Strict conditions included comprehensive masterplanning. The Trust had earlier opposed the loss to the green belt, but accepts this now as an opportunity for a new community to be built here to the highest standards of design in housing, infrastructure, sustainable transport and energy use. After consultation, Durham County Council approved a masterplan in June, a document which the Trust broadly support.

However, last year two developers, Bellway Homes Ltd and County Durham Land LLP, put in two complementary applications for 1,920 houses in total at Sniperley Park. This sidestepped the fact that the Council was developing a masterplan as required by Policy 5 of the County Plan, and offered no real equivalent in their own plans. Numerous other shortcomings against the County Plan were pointed out by Council Officers earlier this year. However, both developers chose not to work with them on due revisions to their applications. Instead, they jumped into making an appeal to Central Government in August, complaining of the Council’s delay in not yet formally deciding their case. In effect, this would have meant the national Planning Inspectorate would decide the applications, measured against the Council’s submitted evidence for its being “minded to refuse” them, as its Planning Committee decided on 6 September.

The public inquiry would have opened on 16 January, with the Trust, the City of Durham Parish Council and CPRE supporting the County Council.

The threat of two substandard planning schemes for Sniperley Park seems to have receded for now. However, the consultant’s letter on behalf of County Durham Land LLP states that “it is our intention now to resubmit the planning application with the amendments before the end of the year”.

Sniperley Park appeal

The City of Durham Trust has been closely involved in the emergence of Sniperley Park as Site H5 in the approved County Durham Plan and especially in the independently examined and modified wording of Policy 5. We objected to the release of the Green Belt in this area for housing. At the independent examination of the County Durham Plan we argued this point. And then when the Inspector agreed for Sniperley Park to be released for housing we constructively contributed to the wording of Policy 5: Durham City’s Sustainable Urban Extensions. Policy 5 provides detailed guidance on how this site should be developed to the high standards necessary to make it an attractive and sustainable place to live. We fully support the approved County Durham Plan’s policies relating to the Sniperley Park housing allocation.

Since the adoption of the County Durham Plan we have made responses to consultations about the comprehensive Masterplan required by Policy 5. In addition, we have objected to development proposals (by Bellway Homes Ltd and Co Durham Land LLP) for this site as they do not meet the requirements of Policy 5 and other policies within the Durham County Plan. These responses and objections can be seen below.

The two developers have appealed against the non-determination of their proposals by Durham County Council. The inquiry is now going ahead. Durham County Council is the main party and has presented a statement of case that they would have been minded to refuse the applications as they did not meet the requirements of policies in the Durham County Plan. A number of other organisations have received ‘Rule 6’ status to enable them to participate actively in this inquiry, including the City of Durham Trust. We are working collaboratively with other ‘Rule 6’ organisations as encouraged by the regulation to avoid making the inquiry too repetitious.

As the inquiry proceeds we will keep you up to date.

To track the appeal look at the Planning Inspectorate’s Appeals Casework Portal for 3303231 (lead case) and 3303244 (linked case),

Trust’s past responses and objections

Other posts

Trust response to consultation on Sniperley Park masterplan
Transport decarbonisation and Sniperley Park

Trust Response to Consultation on Sniperley Park Masterplan

Trustees have submitted a lengthy response to the County Council’s consultation on its draft Masterplan for the Sniperley Park housing development. This site 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.

Unfortunately developers on both sites have submitted planning applications in advance of the publication of the definitive masterplans. Indeed, the application by Banks for the Bent House Lane site has already received outline planning approval on the basis of a plan that they submitted themselves. The Trust protested strongly about this departure from Policy 5 and we are relieved to see that the County Council is taking a firmer line with the Sniperley Park site for which three applications have already been submitted. The whole point of the Masterplan is to ensure cohesion among different developers so that the overall vision set out in the County Durham Plan is achieved.

The Trust’s submission about the Masterplan is available. It is the fruit of weeks of hard and expert work by Trustees. 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. One of the key justifications for removing the site from the Green Belt was that it was close to Durham City and therefore could reduce the need to travel for work and essential services.

The above is just a flavour of the riches contained in the submission. Please read it for yourself.

The Trust makes responses to planning proposals that affect the city. The Trust’s responses to developers’ current planning proposals for Sniperley Park, made in advance of the master plan, are as follows:

Transport decarbonisation and Sniperley Park

In August the Trust responded to the Decarbonisation Strategy consultation from Transport for the North (TfN). An interesting and helpful feature of the strategy was the way TfN had identified actions for local government to take forward to contribute to the delivery of the strategy. They also propose producing a set of “policy baskets” for local authorities based on different place typologies, and more work in the future on rural decarbonisation.

This article concentrates on the measures relating to planning policy, as listed in Annex A of the strategy. As the masterplan and planning applications for Sniperley Park are currently out for consultation, we will look at how Durham County Council could apply these ideas to what will be the largest extension to Durham City in a generation.

To complement this article, I recommend watching an illustrated talk by Lisa Hopkinson from Transport for Quality of Life on Planning for less car use. Her recommendations for new developments start about halfway through, and include examples of housing developments in the UK which are starting to apply these principles.

Car share and cycle hire

TfN has a number of recommendations on this theme:

  • enable shared vehicle provision through planning contributions from new developments
  • consider allowing cycle hire docking stations as an alternative / addition to cycle parking requirements
  • prioritise shared mobility (taxis, car clubs etc.) through provision of dedicated parking and charging
  • embed car club parking in parking standards

Transport for the North recognises that we are running out of time to keep within the carbon budget and that infrastructure and vehicle replacement, which take time, are not sufficient to keep us within budget. Replacing some petrol and diesel cars with fewer vehicles, shared among a number of households, is a very effective way to reduce carbon emissions more quickly.

Car sharing is mentioned in Policy 21 of the County Durham Plan, so all development should be “delivering, accommodating and facilitating investment” in car sharing as one of a number of safe sustainable transport modes. The Council did not mention car club parking in its Parking and Accessibility SPD which was put out for consultation in January 2021, but the Trust’s response highlighted the omission.

Clearly there is scope to include car club provision at a major development like Sniperley Park. The Council’s draft masterplan promises that “a mobility hub will be available at the local centre including exemplar car share scheme, and Park and Pedal facility”. As the extremities of the development will be ten to fifteen minutes’ walk from the local centre, a car club would need several parking sites across the development in order to be attractive for residents. Subsidies to establish the car club, perhaps reducing the cost of membership for new householders, could be sought from the developers.

Transport for the North’s suggestion to allow cycle hire docking stations as part of cycle parking requirements could work well in a larger city with an established cycle hire scheme. How the “Park and Pedal” scheme mentioned in the Council’s draft masterplan would operate is unclear. Would the idea be that people could park their car at the Park and Ride and complete their journey by hire bike instead of the bus? Would there need to be docking stations in the city centre? A “Pedal and Ride” scheme, so that people living in the Sniperley Park development could cycle to the Park and Ride site and complete their journey into Durham by bus might be an attractive option for some.

Location and design of development

  • use local planning policy to:
    • promote “15 minute neighbourhoods”
    • prioritise development close to public transport hubs
    • encourage car-free or car-lite development
  • support roll-out of car-free zones and streets
    • in relation to new developments ensure active travel modes and public transport are always more convenient than private car use
    • use planning policies to encourage the unbundling of the cost of parking from new housing prices to incentivise take-up of car-free or car-lite development

Transport for the North suggest a number of ideas which can help people be less dependent on car travel. The idea of the 15 minute neighbourhood is to have a good range of facilities within 15 minutes’ walk of where people live. The Sniperley Park site will have a local centre on the B6532 Sacriston road, with shops, health care, nursery etc. and a new primary school close by. What the site will lack is more general employment opportunities, meaning that cycle and public transport connections to Aykley Heads, Abbey Road, the city centre and university will be important if commuting by car is to be minimised. A Sniperley Healthy Active Travel Delivery Plan was presented to the council cabinet along with the masterplan. It does not identify which routes off the site need to be improved for cycling.

The draft masterplan includes proposals for higher density housing near to the local centre. The Bellway planning application for the southern part of the site included apartments near to the Park and Ride. Both locations would have good public transport connections into Durham, but cannot really be considered hubs. Anyone living at Sniperley and working further afield such as Gateshead or Sunderland will not have realistic public transport options.

Where the Sniperley masterplan, and the County Durham Plan in general, is not aligned with TfN measures is around car-free and car-lite development. The Sniperley masterplan envisages a number of links between the existing main roads, so private car use would always be as convenient as sustainable transport modes. Access to the primary school is a key point: to promote sustainable transport, the school should be well connected to cycle and walking routes, and drop-off access for car should be at some distance from the school gates to ensure that the area around the school encourages social interaction and safe active travel. While the masterplan mentions the need to avoid parking on the main roads for drop-off, it does not go so far as to talk of restricting car access to the school.

The most interesting aspect of TfN’s recommended measures is the “unbundling of the cost of parking from new housing prices”. The Council’s Parking and Accessibility SPD requires car parking spaces within the property of each house, with the number of spaces increasing with the size of the house. This approach simply attempts to predict the demand and provide for it. The TfN Decarbonisation Strategy is on the side of demand management. Unbundling housing and parking spaces entails providing rented parking spaces across the site. With a development such as Sniperley there would still be some provision at most houses, but there is scope to have some car-free development near the local centre and the Park and Ride. The Trust’s third response to the Bellway planning application suggested that housing and flats close to the Park and Ride could have the option of renting Park and Ride spaces for storing their cars. As the Park and Ride spaces are mainly used by commuters during the day, they would be ideal for parking residents’ cars overnight and at weekends. This would make much better use of the land.

Car access and car parking accounts for quite a high proportion of development land. Reducing the need for car parking can allow more housing to fit in a smaller area (increasing the viability of bus services) while still allowing more space for gardens and green space. This should result in lower house prices, which offset the cost of renting parking spaces for those who need them. Crucially this forces people to think about the cost of owning one or more vehicles, and has been proven to help people switch to more sustainable patterns of transport use. Such schemes do need to be supported by enforcement of on-street parking and by planning constraints on the paving-over of gardens.

In a future article I hope to explore some of the other TfN recommendations which are not so applicable to a large housing development like Sniperley Park. In the meantime, the Trust will be finalising its response to the masterplan consultation, which will cover many other aspects apart from transport, and will be studying the County Durham Land outline application for the northern part of the site. Do please make your own responses, or leave comments below for us to incorporate. And do please watch the video – it’s an excellent talk.