The City of Durham Trust

Trust response to pandemic

The Trust has published an extraordinary Bulletin setting out its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. All in-person meetings of Trustees have been suspended, and they are now meeting online via the Zoom software. The AGM scheduled for June 10 has been replaced with an online meeting on 30 September. The Trust continues to function, largely by email, and Trustees continue to respond each week to planning applications.

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The City of Durham Trust is a membership organisation, and if you care about Durham City you should consider joining us, to support the work we do and influence our policies.

Standard membership costs just £15 a year, with a lower rate of £10 for retired people and discounted joint membership. Life membership is available for £200. This page has an online membership form.

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Roberta Blackman-Woods Trust AGM online this year

The 78th Annual General Meeting of the City of Durham Trust will be held virtually using Zoom on Wednesday 30th September 2020, starting at 7.00 pm. The Agenda, 2019 Accounts and the minutes of the 2019 AGM are online and may be read by following those links.

At the start of the meeting Roberta Blackman-Woods, a new Patron of the Trust, will give a short talk and take questions:

The Planning White Paper: enhancing or eliminating local democracy?

Assembly Rooms win Architectural Award

Assembly Rooms

There was a clear winner this year of the Trust’s annual Architectural Award for a new building or major refurbishment. In October 2019, the University’s proscenium arch theatre at 40 North Bailey, the “Assembly Rooms Theatre”, re-opened after 14 months of renovations. This superb refurbishment, financed by £2.5m from the University, has been an example of how close student engagement and dedicated voluntary work can inspire architects to work well beyond the minimum of their brief, achieving far more with their budget than might have been envisaged.

PH Partnership Architects were the main firm responsible, having previously worked on the performance space at the Sir James Knott Hall. There was also vital work from Stage Electrics, a company who help design and install the technical elements of theatres, and the aid of a former colleague from the theatre, Jonny Browning, who worked on the recent renovation of the Mark Hillary Arts Centre in Collingwood College.

The main challenge was to give the theatre acceptable disabled and wheelchair access despite tight spatial constraints. This was achieved by the installation of a platform lift and provision of an audience balcony at the top of auditorium for people in wheelchairs. A small new bar has been built and the box office has been attractively redesigned on the ground floor. The whole building has been redecorated and rewired, and the public spaces fitted with effective acoustic panels. The auditorium has kept a version of the previous red and grey colour scheme, and the fine wooden panelling and the decorated ceiling. Colours are restrained, cheerful but not garish. There are now quieter fold-down chairs, 175 seats (fewer than before, making space for the wheelchair balcony).

More information in the February 2020 edition of the Trust’s Bulletin

The County Durham Plan

The final report of the Inspector, Mr William Fieldhouse, is expected shortly. Following the end of the public sessions of the Examination in Public Mr Fieldhouse issued his Post Hearings Advice on 20 February 2020, in which he out a number of main modifications he considered necessary to make the plan sound. These included the removal of plans for relief roads around Durham City — something for which the Trust and like-minded bodies had argued.

Mr Fieldhouse was supportive of measures to restrict the building of extensions to homes in multiple occupation (student houses) in Durham City, requesting the Council to draft a main modification making such extensions subject to the same restrictions on the allowed density of students’ units as already apply to whole buildings. He insisted that the Council delete a reference to the possibility of building on a large, additional area of Green Belt at Aykley Heads after the current plan period ends (the site supporting the Council’s widely advertised, if fictional, “6,000 new jobs”).

Consultation on the 178 main modifications was delayed by the Coronavirus pandemic, but finally took place over an eight-week period ending on 21 July. The Inspector is now considering all of the representations (there were 491) and a final report is expected shortly.

There is more about the County Durham Plan in Bulletin 88, and we have a web page with a full list of the Trust’s responses.