The City of Durham Trust

Trust gears up for County Plan Inquiry

Much of our past year has been spent preparing for the County Durham Plan, gathering evidence, writing comments on the final (Pre-Submission) version published by the County Council, and most recently preparing further comments on the latest developments. The Examination in Public starts on 1st October. All our submissions are online, linked from the County Durham Plan page of this website.

In the Trust’s view the Council seems to be following its standard operating procedure since its inception as a unitary authority, of appearing to consult on issues and of then either ignoring or discounting feedback from the general public and disregarding or misrepresenting key evidence in order to justify the implementation of the proposals it had already selected. We have therefore made a corporate complaint that the council has failed to provide the objective and comprehensive analysis of issues raised in the consultation process that consultees were entitled to expect and which good practice and government guidance require. We have raised this issue with the Inspector.

Last year we pointed out a number of fundamental flaws with the key calculations of the likely size of Durham’s population in 2030, which of course has a knock-on effect on the number of houses required. The Council has not corrected these. Furthermore they have decided not to take into account the latest official predictions from the Office of National Statistics released in late May, which predict a lower rate of population growth than their earlier predictions. We have told the Council officers that we regard this approach as “courageous” and our supplementary submission explains why. We have been in touch with the Friends of Durham Green Belt and the CPRE and their analyses are along the same lines.

The Council has also persisted with its plans to build 3,675 houses on the Green Belt around Durham. Our comments last year showed that there were numerous places beyond the Green Belt that were within 15 or 20 minutes travel time of the City where, if houses were needed, they could be built and contribute to the City's economy. Our further submission now shows that both of the large sites at North of Arnison and Sniperley Park score poorly on sustainability issues, with Sniperley Park in particular being in the bottom 4% of a list of 464 possible sites. We have also discovered that the Council owns part of Sniperley Park and stands to get £7.3m if the development goes ahead and it is developed. We ask “Would this site have been proposed if the Council did not have such extensive land holdings there?”.

Our latest submission on the proposed relief roads shows that the Council has misrepresented as unqualified support documents from its consultants and the Highways Agency that say that further work needs to be done. We also highlight official statistics published by the Department for Transport that show that traffic levels are falling. For example, on the Crossgate Moor section of the A167, frequently identified as a problem, the daily average has fallen from 27,676 vehicles in 2004 to 24,135 in 2012, and that this declining trend had begun well before the economic downturn. The latest DfT data shows this trend continuing into 2013, with the daily average now 24,048 vehicles. And traffic across Milburngate Bridge, said to be “60,000 vehicles per day” in the Council’s comments on the representations it has received, was 42,469 in 2002; in 2013 the average was 41,443.

The Trust has many other issues with the County Durham Plan which may be explored further from our County Durham Plan page.