The City of Durham Trust
Trust tells the Council “County Durham deserves better”
Our response to the latest County Durham Plan proposals
The City of Durham Trust has now responded to the County’s Local Plan Preferred Options. Trustees have trawled through the 350-page document, examined thousands of pages of background papers, and looked outside the Council’s own evidence to come up with a detailed and justified 59-page submission.
Trust Chairman Roger Cornwell said: “Borrowing the words of the Authority’s slogans, these proposals will not result in an ‘Altogether better County’ but, unfortunately, will be ‘Making a difference where you live.’ We say ‘County Durham deserves Better’.”
The Trust agrees with the Authority’s goal of improving the well-being of all those who live in County Durham through economic regeneration. But the present Plan will not achieve this. This page has a detailed exposition of the Trust’s responses.
The Trust argues that the strategy focuses on the City of Durham at the expense of the rest of the County and to the detriment of the City itself, showing scant notice of public opinion carefully expressed since the first draft proposals appeared in 2009. Although submitted primarily on behalf of its members, with the City’s district status abolished and with no town or parish council to represent the views of the City, the Trustees feel that these comments will be endorsed by many of the disenfranchised citizens of Durham.
The main points made by the Trust are:
- There is no objective regional context within the Plan. It ignores the regional competing pulls of Tyneside, Wearside and the Tees Valley.
- It concentrates on economic development without due regard for the linked social and environmental dimensions which both the sustainability concept and government guidelines require.
- There is excessive concentration at the centre, which will irretrievably alter the character of the City as we know it, while the rest of the County will receive less than it might expect. The Plan’s lack of balance is contrary to all previous planning within the County, and is an opportunity lost.
- It mounts a major attack on Durham's tiny Green Belt without reason and in violation of the proper procedures. There are places outside the Green Belt but in easy travelling distance of Durham where the required houses could be built sustainably.
- It proposes two major road-building programmes (the Western and Northern Relief Roads) which are likely to exacerbate rather than ameliorate traffic problems, would cause environmental harm, are not not supported by the County’s own evidence and which are contrary to its own sustainability principles and the latest version of its Local Transport Plan.
- It proposes a concentration of 6,000 employees at Aykley Heads (with inevitable travel congestion at a less than sustainable site, further loss of Green Belt, as well as the demolition of County Hall to factor in).
- It ignores or glosses over the comparative advantages of available sites elsewhere, such as Durham Gate, Amazon Park, Mountjoy, the former Ice Rink, the County Hospital, etc.
- It suggests retail proposals for North Road which are insufficiently imaginative or comprehensive.
- It proposes an out-of-town shopping centre north of Arnison which not only breaches the Green Belt but would be inappropriate in both local and City centre contexts, while contradicting the Council’s own policies for the City centre, public transport and sustainability.
- It pays lip service to sustainable transport principles while proposing housing, retailing and employment policies which flout these principles.
These proposals are all contrary to central government’s recently introduced National Planning Policy Framework and are inconsistent with the findings of the government-appointed inquiry inspector in 2002.
Further, the development is to be progressed, or financed, by charging developers a Community Infrastructure Levy which is excessively high compared, not only with the rest of the county, but in the country as a whole. There is no guarantee that developers will pay the high figure of around £25,000 per house – or that the Levy will last for the length of the Plan, as the last Conservative manifesto proposed its abolition. The County’s domestic council tax payers are therefore at risk of ending up paying for the County Council’s unwanted and unsustainable ambitions, while developers reap profits at their expense.
The City of Durham Trust therefore urges the County Council to change its Preferred Options, since in our opinion there is a real risk that the inspector at the Examination in Public will deem the Plan unacceptable.