EiP additional statements - Population, Housing and Green Belt, asnd other issue

Population and housing figures in particular feature in the additional submissions CPRE and other organisations have submitted to the Durham Plan Examination in Public.  They are considered key in the fight to protect important sites from development, especially those currently in the Green Belt around Durham City. They can be found in documents relating to "Matter 4" which can be found by clicking on the "EIP - Submissions" button to the left.

Comment has also been made on various other issues and in total the "Matters" CPRE has commented on at this stage are:


Matter 1 - Legal requirements... – NB

Matter 2 or 6 - Vision...and Developer contributions

Matter 4 - Quantity of development

Matter 7 - Durham City and Aykley Head

Matter 8 - Strategic Housing sites

Matter 10 - Green Belt

Matter 11 - General Development - Air Quality

Matter 11 - General Development - wind

Matter 13 - Non Strategic Housing sites

Matter 14 - Natural Environment

Matter 15 - Sustainable Transport

Matter 16 - Minerals

Durham Plan Pre-Submission Draft - CPRE comment

The final document included is a one summarising the comment CPRE Durham made to the Durham Plan Pre-submission draft consultation stage.  These two bodies of information will be central to what CPRE has to say at the Examination in Public in October.  A number have been compiled jointly with other organisations, plus the various groups have co-ordinated to work to use the strengths of each to achieve our joint objective of protecting a landscape we all value."

Durham EIP Day 1 -  Wednesday 1st October 2014 – An observer’s observations

 The preparation came to fruition when the first day of the Examination of Public was underway.  Major issues covered began with whether correct procedures had been followed drawing up the Plan (Matter1).   Matter 2 looked at the  Vision, Objectives and Sustainablility Development policy.  Finally Matter 3 explored the Settlement Hierarchy with discussion on what constituted a Main Town, Smaller Town, Village, etc.

 Watching on proceedings it was interesting to see the different issues drawn out by the Inspector.  He gave time for representatives to explain their position, but did keep people to the point.  There was opportunity for all sides to respond to each others comment to ensure no stone was left unturned, and everyone had opportunity to make their points.

 It was noted there was much emphasis on looking for ways to resolve any issues, perhaps by rewording or adding to a policy, to find ways of making the Plan “sound”, which is the overall objective.

 At a practical level it was also noted that when referring to documents time is taken to ensure their  references and any mention of particular paragraphs, policies, etc, are accurately recorded, something worth remembering when preparing paperwork for sessions.

 Day 1 was very much at the strategic/overall level and many of the topics mentioned will be dealt with in more depth in later sessions.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 3 -  Tuesday 7th October 2014 – An observer’s observations

Except your “observer” suddenly found she was sitting at the table……………...

But to continue, in the morning Matter 5 covered the Distribution of Development.  Having found various parties had different ideas on how much development there should be, it was no surprise to discover there were different ideas on where to put it – and even if it was needed at all.  At the table with my CPRE representor’s hat on I pointed out that when the Inspector had asked those who spoke at the Matter 4 session to submit a one page summary of their comment,  three of the campaign organisations, ourselves (CPRE), Friends of the Durham Green Belt and the City of Durham Trust, had all independently come to approximately the same 20,000 figure for houses required.  With that number of houses CPRE believes the Arnison and Sniperly housing sites are not required, and consequently neither are the deletions from the Green Belt.  We reckon the housing should be distributed around Durham City, the villages around Durham City and the rest of the county, to spread the benefits.  Having said all that it will be the Friends and the Trust who will be doing the detailed work on the various localities and sites, with us cheering them on, metaphorically speaking.  Understandably the developers’ representatives took views which best suited the sites they were interested in which brought an interesting variety of views, both for and against the Council’s position.

After lunch it was on to Matter 6, Developer Contributions.  We originally thought this was to be about Section 106 agreements and CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) until Richard Cowen read the agenda.  He realised this was the place to bring up the apparent lack of allocation for education, sport, etc, which are mentioned in Objective 9.  Richard covered this matter with the situation relating to the Bowburn schools as the example.  The moral here is keep an eye on the agendas and the programme.  It was also a time that showed the importance of just being there – something our friends from Newcastle/Gateshead warned us about.  True the first inklings appeared the day before, but there is a least one developer who wishes to link Coxhoe and Parkhill as a unit for discussing housing allocations.  Except all this is the first Bowburn and Parkihill residents have heard of it.  Fortunately, because he was there, Richard will be able to pass the word round the area and was able to highlight to the EiP that Parkhill residents looks to Bowburn, not Coxhoe.

The scene is now set for discussion on individual locations and sites.  Wednesday will be the first of 2 days on Durham City.  Thursday is on the two relief roads and Wednesday on everything else.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 4 -  Wednesday 8th October 2014 – An observer’s observations

Comfortably back in the public gallery this day I found the room packed for the first of 2 days on Durham City itself.  With the roads to be considered the next day, this was for everything else, including Ackley Heads and the strategic housing sites of Sniperley, Arnison and Sherburn.  In truth it is issues relating to Durham City where the Plan is finding its problems.

Having spent a number of days on strategy and general policy where discussion of individual sites was the norm I innocently thought this would be the day there would be deep discussion on individual sites.  But that is not what happened!  Almost everything stayed at the general level.  Was it perhaps people had already put their comments on the table and knowing the Inspector did not want repetition they limited themselves to confirmatory remarks, making reference only to their main comment on whatever day that had been?

Policy 6 was about where development, housing and employment, should be.  Some considered it should be concentrated in Durham City, others that it should be more spread out, especially into the hinterland of Durham City.  With Policy 7 There was detailed discussion on Aykley Heads where there is general agreement on the employment use, but there is the sticking point of the deletion of a relatively small piece of Green Belt with the aim of creating a 1,000 jobs.  I had a sense that if that one element, that one Green Belt deletion, had not been part of the Plan we would not have been discussing the site at all.  Onwards to Policy 8 on the Strategic housing sites, that is Sniperley, Arnison and Sherburn.  These 3 sites all include deletion of Green Belt, very substantial deletions for the first two.

It was now discussion on the Green Belt in principal surfaced and this had a particular twist as there had been the ministerial statement on the Monday in which the importance of Green Belt was reaffirmed with an update to the “National Planning Policy Framework”.  Campaign groups saw this as very positive, the Council and at least one developer reckoned it makes no difference.  The Council consider they have followed the relevant national policy and for the strategic housing sites they will be maintaining they have justified “exceptional circumstances”, which are being considered in developing a Local Plan, which make the deletions acceptable.  The campaign groups beg to differ, but that will be investigated next Tuesday when Matter 10, Green Belt, is discussed.

As the day drew to a close there had still not been that much discussion on the Arnison and Sherburn sites so they are to be looked at the next day before the spotlight turns to the relief roads. Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 5 -  Thursday 9th October 2014 – An observer’s observations

Matter 7, part 2, covered the Western and Northern Relief Roads.

This was always going to be a key day in view of how many people and groups do not like the proposed roads and there was a repeated request to delete Policies 9 and 10.  Durham County Council, however, are convinced they are the only answer to the traffic problems.

A number of groups pointed out the chicken and egg situation of the proposed housing at Sniperley and Arnison requiring the road, which requires those developments to pay for it.  One councillor added that so far as they were aware Section 106 money was supposed to be used to benefit the community, not build roads they did not want.  One representor noted that in her experience the delay at Nevills Cross junction was 5 minutes at peak times and she considered that a small price to pay to preserve the amazing history and landscape of the route proposed for the Western Relief Road in particular.

The debate ranged from the most general to the deepest detail.  Being roads the fencing with figures and travel models was highly technical with the City of Durham Trust taking the lead with the other campaign groups right behind them.  There was talk of the whole route, and at the other end a representor on behalf of his mother whose house will be dramatically affected.  Roads have a reach into peoples’ lives which can be very significant and long lasting.

Durham County Council do accept there will be impacts, but they consider they will have mitigation in place and the benefits will outweigh the disbenefits.

One additional aspect which received some airing was sustainable transport, as an alternative to the car in particular, so there was not the need for more roads.  Provision for cycling was a particular theme.

It was interesting to note that where in previous sessions Durham County Council responded as representors made their statements, in this session it was more usual for a number of the various campaign groups to give their views and then the Council respond.

A thought for the future is when compiling documents is to ensure you clearly number the pages and the paragraphs for ease of reference.  There were a number of occasions when the various parties were shuffling papers trying to get everyone onto the same page of the same document.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 6 - Friday 10th October 2014 – An observer’s observations

Friday, and the idea of a short day was most attractive.  And so it turned out as we finished at lunch time.

Matters 8 and 9 dealt with housing.

Matter 8 was Policy 11, “Other strategic housing sites”.  One by one the following sites were discussed: Woodhouses Farm (Bishop Auckland) (600); High West Road (Crook)(600), Low Copelaw (Newton Aycliffe) (950) and North East Industrial Estate (Peterlee) (390).  In addition there was an owner who wished to have their site added to the allocations.  As usual there was a variety of views with local residents concerned at the effect of adding large housing estates to existing towns which are often short on facilities.  One different issue was CPRE pointing out that The Isles wind farm is not that far from the Low Copelaw, Newton Aycliffe, housing site.  The wind farm may not gain permission, but if it does it will have an effect as the two clusters of large turbines will not be missable.

After a break Matter 9 looked at Executive housing sites.  With Policy 12 Lambton Park is the only large site designated in the county and a number of landowners and developers consider there should be more. There were also a number of calls for sites to be distributed across the county.  Lambton Park also brings concerns as it is in the Green Belt which means CPRE and Friends of the Durham Green Belt are not happy about it.  The Friends were also unhappy as they saw the exclusivity as socially divisive.

With Policy 13 apparently giving the option to build small scale executive housing sites throughout the county, provided the criteria are met, I thought it would be popular.  But here again there was a different perspective as developers considered it too restrictive.  Sometimes the Council just cannot win.

After a sandwich I decided the best move was a walk along the river past the park.  The Wear is very sinuous in this area, and with its broad sweeps it is quite beautiful and it was very easy to forget the motorway and major roads which circuited it.  We really do have a magnificent county and it is well worth the effort taken to defend it.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 7 - Friday 14th October 2014 – An observer’s observations

Green Belt.  Matter 10 is core to the issues many groups have with the Plan.

Campaign groups are opposed to the deletion of Green Belt, with an especial dislike at loosing Green Belt for the Arnison, Sniperley and Lambton housing sites and the Western and Northern Relief roads.

The groups, including CPRE, believe the population figures do not support the need for the 31,000 houses Durham County Council maintain are required.  CPRE, Friends of the Durham Green Belt, City of Durham Trust and Bearpark Action Group each worked out the number of houses they considered were required and independently came to figures in the 20,000 ballpark.  It is maintained that with that sort of number the Siperley and Arnison housing sites will not be needed, so no need to delete the Green Belt and no need for the roads.  As mentioned in previous observations Durham County Council considers the housing is needed and that there are “special circumstances” which permit Green Belt to be deleted.  The various groups put their case forward to the effect there are no “special circumstances”.  Some dealt with the minutia of particular sites and boundaries, others looked at the bigger picture, in particular Paul Miner, Senior Campaign Planner from CPRE National Office.  He joined us for the day and with his experience from other areas stated that there were no “special circumstances” proven.  The Inspector is going to have his work cut out again.

Part of this discussion was also landowners who wished to have their sites removed from the Green Belt to permit development.  They met with varying responses from the Council ranging from agreeing and discussion on adjusting the boundaries, through to statements that change would not be considered.  This was an aspect which left the Inspector with a growing list of places to go on site visits next month.

However, there are times when the groups were in support of the Council and the proposal to create a North West Durham Green Belt to protect the Derwent Valley met with general approval – though a number made the point that new Green Belt there would not be a replacement for any lost around Durham.

A key day where lines have been laid down and there will be much interest in the Inspector’s report when it is available.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 8 - Wednesday 15th October 2014 – An observer’s observations

The room looked bare when we turned up for Matter 11.1.  General Development Principles, Part 1 which covered: Policy 15: Development on Unallocated Sites in Built up Areas, Policy 16: Sustainable Design in the Built Environment, Policy 17: Exception Sites

There was a distinct paucity of people at the table and in the public seating.  In fact I think I saw some Council staff sitting there so it did not look so bare!

Of course this meant it was easy for everyone to have their turn and there were some deep discussions on particular sites.  Even so we were finished before lunch and had the rest of the day to do what we wished.

To turn to the business of the day, the day began with an update on Supplementary Planning Documents.  Durham County Council advised they had reviewed all their documents to ensure they complied with the relevant guidance, which they all did except for the one on Auckland Castle.  They advised they are withdrawing this one and do not plan to do another one.  This was good news as this was the document which mentioned the theme park at Bishop Auckland by the river which people, including the local MP, were unhappy about.  A key point regarding SPD’s is they cannot be used to introduce policy (as had happened with the theme park), only expand upon what is in the Plan.

The first scheduled discussion was on Policy 15 Development on Unallocated Sites in Built Up Areas where the Council had removed a number of points from a previous version of the policy and put them in the glossary.  Interestingly it was the developers who wanted to see the wording re-instated in the body of the Plan.  Much talk hinged around the definition of ”built up area” and whether the wording “adjacent to” should be added to the policy as the developers wished.  CPRE did not want it in as it we believe it could result in unrestricted development as developments could be added as long as they were “adjacent to” what was there.  We made our views know and the Inspector will have to sort it out, though he did make the comment that whatever is done the policy must be as clear as possible – perhaps he has regard to the number of planning inquiries he has been involved taken in the past.

Policy 16 on Sustainable Design began with the Council basically saying good design equals good development which is easy to support.  The main discussion was participation by Durham Constabulary who wished to see more designing out of opportunities for crime and/or unsocial behaviour and the addition of some additional paragraphs to help with


There was not much discussion on Policy 17 Exception Sites as there was agreeance something was required to deal with the situation and everyone seemed happy with what was there.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 8 - Wednesday 15th October 2014 – An observer’s observations

The room looked bare when we turned up for Matter 11.1.  General Development Principles, Part 1 which covered: Policy 15: Development on Unallocated Sites in Built up Areas, Policy 16: Sustainable Design in the Built Environment, Policy 17: Exception Sites

There was a distinct paucity of people at the table and in the public seating.  In fact I think I saw some Council staff sitting there so it did not look so bare!

Of course this meant it was easy for everyone to have their turn and there were some deep discussions on particular sites.  Even so we were finished before lunch and had the rest of the day to do what we wished.

To turn to the business of the day, the day began with an update on Supplementary Planning Documents.  Durham County Council advised they had reviewed all their documents to ensure they complied with the relevant guidance, which they all did except for the one on Auckland Castle.  They advised they are withdrawing this one and do not plan to do another one.  This was good news as this was the document which mentioned the theme park at Bishop Auckland by the river which people, including the local MP, were unhappy about.  A key point regarding SPD’s is they cannot be used to introduce policy (as had happened with the theme park), only expand upon what is in the Plan.

The first scheduled discussion was on Policy 15 Development on Unallocated Sites in Built Up Areas where the Council had removed a number of points from a previous version of the policy and put them in the glossary.  Interestingly it was the developers who wanted to see the wording re-instated in the body of the Plan.  Much talk hinged around the definition of ”built up area” and whether the wording “adjacent to” should be added to the policy as the developers wished.  CPRE did not want it in as it we believe it could result in unrestricted development as developments could be added as long as they were “adjacent to” what was there.  We made our views know and the Inspector will have to sort it out, though he did make the comment that whatever is done the policy must be as clear as possible – perhaps he has regard to the number of planning inquiries he has been involved taken in the past.

Policy 16 on Sustainable Design began with the Council basically saying good design equals good development which is easy to support.  The main discussion was participation by Durham Constabulary who wished to see more designing out of opportunities for crime and/or unsocial behaviour and the addition of some additional paragraphs to help with


There was not much discussion on Policy 17 Exception Sites as there was agreeance something was required to deal with the situation and everyone seemed happy with what was there.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 9 - Thursday 16th October 2014 – An observer’s observations

If the room was bare the day before on Wednesday it was even less populated on day which also looked at General Development Principles, Part 2, covering

Policies 18-19: Local Amenity and Air Quality, Light and Noise Pollution;

Policy 20: Green Infrastructure; and

Policies 21-22: Renewable and Low Carbon Energy and Wind Turbine Development

The Matter had been split in two as it was thought there would be too many people for one day, but how things can change.  If nothing else we had expected a number of wind farm developers for when policy on wind farms was considered, but there was only one!

The session began with a submission on behalf of CPRE by John Urquart on the negative impact of transport on air quality, with the Inspector asking for the comment on paper and asking if John could liase with Durham County Council to to see if a revised wording could be devised.  If it cannot they have to let the Inspector know and he will look at the sitation.

Green Infrastructure is an area where we have welcomed the policy.  CPRE did comment that we would like to see something more positive to protect smaller sites without special designations.  Durham County Council responded that they believe Policy 41 will cover this when sites are looked at individually when planning applications come in.

Renewable and Low Carbon Energy and Wind Turbine Development is a bit of a mouth full and there are other policies on energy, policies 21, 22 and 57, and one representor considered they should all be brought together in one policy.  The wide variety of types of energy generation were considered, especially alternative types and the point was made that the policy would have to be able to deal with new types which come forward in the future.  Teesdale Action Partnership (TAP) pointed out there was a lot of fuel poverty in the Weardale and Teesdale areas where there is no gas supply.  With regard to wind turbines they did not object to domestic scale turbines, it is the industrial scale ones which cause problems.  Banks, a major wind farm developer, considered the Plan to be unambitious.  They reckon that though the wording is positive it is not so in effect as there are, it their opinion, arbitrary criteria and the capacity of onshore wind is ignored – they disagree with Map 5 with the constraints it shows.  They were the first to mention the “stand off distance” of a turbine from roads, houses, etc, considering 600m is too far.  CPRE responded that they found renewables, especially wind, can be controversial with questions on effectiveness and variability of supply.  There is a wish to support renewables generally, but the issues, such as residential amenity and impact on the landscape do need to be addressed whether it is a wind turbine, anaerobic digester, or some other form.  With regard to “stand off distance” CPRE supported the ethos of the policy and would want it no weaker, in truth we would prefer it was strengthened.  Durham County Council don’t consider the Plan unambitious and consider the policies will serve their purpose and will allow for new technologies coming forward – it is why they have not listed all the current technologies as they wish to retain the flexibility.  They also were heavily involved in the discussion on “stand off distance” and topple heights.  This was another topic where more differences were identified so he Inspector is going to be busy when he compiles his report.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 10 - Friday 17th October 2014 – An observer’s observations

“A Posperous Economy”, Matter 12, covered a lot of policies:

Policy 23: Employment Land

Policy 24: Allocating and Safeguarding Specific Use Employment Sites

Policy 25: Retail Allocations and Town Centre Regeneration Areas

Policy 26: Retail Hierarchy and Development in Town Centres

Policies 27 - 28: Visitor Attractions and Accommodation

Discussing Policy 23: Employment Land and Policy 24: Allocating and Safeguarding Specific Use Employment Sites the 399 hectares allocated were noted.  This was a session where landowners put forward the case for their sites, sometimes wishing for allocation and others looking for wider designations to allow a wider range of uses on the relevant site.  An interestingly different view came from the farm tenant in the area Durham County Council wish to allocate for employment use as an extension of the Drum industrial estate.  Needless to say he did not want the land use to change.

Policy 25: Retail Allocations and Town Centre Regeneration Areas and Policy 26: Retail Hierarchy and Development in Town Centres brought discussion on the Arnison, North Road and Claypath retail areas in Durham City where the City of Durham Trust in particular was unhappy at Durham County Council’s approach.  Much hinged on the definition of “out of town centre” and the varying use the words were put to with the Trust considering the Council were inconsistent in their usage.  Further afield Project Genesis is an outfit developing the old Consett steelworks site.  They wished for a broader range of uses than currently allocated for.  In one of his rare comments (as opposed to asking a question) the Inspector commented that perhaps part of regeneration is to draw back spend from the Metrocentre, Team Valley, etc.  There was also detailed discussion on the situation at Willington and Crook with the Greater Willington Town Council advocating a site in Willington for a supermarket.  The refreshing element of these Policies’ discussion was the consideration of sites in the wider county, and not just Durham City.

Policies 27 - 28: Visitor Attractions and Accommodation.  There was only a little discussion here with CPRE promoting green tourism and pointing out the need to assess access for caravan sites.  Our biggest “tourist” concern had been the proposals for a theme park at Bishop Auckland and we had expected much discussion, but that did not happen as the Supplementary Planning Document which mentioned it was withdrawn and will not be revisited – as reported on Day 8.

The Examination was adjourned mid afternoon and those participating were able to leave knowing there is to be a welcome week’s break in the proceedings.  The next session is Day 11 on 28th October 2014.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 11 - Tuesday 28th October 2014 – Observations from the table

Matter 13 - Housing

We first revisited issues arising from Day 2 as stated there.  In particular this was to consider the five year housing supply, how this should be interpreted and applied.

Needless to say of course we started from 3 different positions.  The council has its figure of 31,400 houses, CPRE and City of Durham Trust say it should be more like 20,000 and the builders want far more.  Although the arguments have already been put and referred to on a number of occasions, today was no exception to refer to them again.

A five year supply plus 5% has to be available under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) unless there has been a persistent shortfall, when the buffer must be 20%. The Council accepted there has been a shortfall and so added 20% but claimed it still satisfied the 5 year supply.  There was then an argument that the 20% should not just be of the 5 year supply, but of that figure plus the actual shortfall.  One developer referred to a planning appeal where this had been decided which pleased the Inspector as it was his decision.  Unfortunately, your CPRE representative had to blot his copybook by questioning whether this is in fact the correct way of interpreting this provision of the NPPF.  Time alone will tell if he has a legitimate argument.

Of course, we argued that if the housing figure should indeed be found to be 20,000, then there is ample provision for a 5 year supply, whatever the definition of the 20% buffer may be.  But if the developers are correct, then this has not been met and more sites may need to be identified.  And the issue of brownfield sites particularly in the city centre was again referred to.

It was also mentioned that there has been a number of approved planning applications for sizable sites which have never appeared in any stage of the Plan. It was suggested that these should count towards the 5 year supply but on the face of it there was no evidence that this was the case.

We then moved on to discuss the effect of existing planning permissions and how they should be treated.  The Inspector suggested that there should be a 10% discount in respect of these to reflect that some may not be developed at all or others may be developed with fewer houses than approved.  The council was happy with the "cautious" way it had approached this topic but developers of course supported the Inspector

We then discussed Policy 30, the allocation of sites.  This was not meant to be a site by site analysis, a "my site is better than yours" scenario, although a bit of that did enter the session.  It was supposed to analyse the process of selecting the sites and determining whether sufficient sites had been allocated.  People again referred to the arguments about housing numbers and whether exceptional circumstances exist to delete areas from Green Belt to let development take place.  This applies to all sites proposed to be deleted from the Green Belt - and there are quite a few, not just the "biggies" at Sniperley and North of Arnison.

There was also an issue regarding green wedge land.  This exists at one site allocated for housing at Sedgefield.  Clearly green wedge does not carry the same weight as Green Belt and "exceptional circumstances" cannot apply to it - but does that mean it is no more "special" than any land without a designation and the designation can be totally ignored?  An argument was put that this cannot be the case.  Attention was also drawn to applications for some huge sites at Wynyard and Hartlepool, only some 3 to 4 miles each from Sedgefield and which may well compete with any housing allocation there.

Some developers put forward new sites throughout the County.  This, however, was more to "flag them up".  Sites specific will be discussed in more detail in Part 2 of the EiP in the New Year.

The day ended with a discussion about special housing - affordable and old persons housing.  There were arguments as to whether the Policy should have a review clause about the quantity of affordable housing and issues about housing for the older generation, estimated to increase by some 90% during the Plan period and, towards the end of the period, account for every third household.

Two days had been set aside to discuss all these provisions and today was indeed well attended. However, we got through the agenda for the two days so the session for Wednesday has been cancelled. Student accommodation, to be discussed on Thursday, will no doubt be another controversial session.

Richard Cowen, CPRE’s representative at the table

Durham EIP Day 12 - Wednesday 29th October 2014 – Observations from the table

Matter 13 - Housing

Two days had been set aside to discuss all these provisions.  However, we got through the agenda for the two days on the Tuesday so the session for Wednesday was cancelled.  Student accommodation, to be discussed on Thursday, will no doubt be another controversial session.

Richard Cowen, CPRE’s representative at the table

Durham EIP Day 2 - Thursday 2nd October 2014 – An observer’s observations

Matter 4 had the posh title of “Quantity of Development”.  In truth it was the day for swopping and fencing with figures – a statistics day.

Everyone was expected to have read everyone else’s statements and know the content so the amount of detailed figure quoting was minimised which helped non-technical observers like myself, but some technicality could not be avoided.

The core element in many peoples’ eyes was the population figures as all else was basically derived from this.  Which statistics do you use and how?  Durham County Council were convinced they had the best approach using the 2008 and 2011 Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures.  The campaign groups were convinced the ONS 2012 projections released earlier this year should be used.

Then there was how those figures were used.  There were those who followed the detailed ins and outs, which obviously included the Inspector in view of his pertinent questions, but people like me were just glad there were experts who could deal with the situation.

In truth it seemed to be a day it was more the differences in view between organisations which was identified.  The Inspector collected his information and asked for “homework” from some and reminded us at the end that in view of the complexity he would be happy for representatives to submit a one A4 page summary for circulation.  His large heap of paper will be larger, but what is written down is very important in getting your case accross.

Topic wise, following the basic question of the basic statistics the discussion evolved on to the use of the figures for housing, employment and employment land area.  What is and is not included and how it is used can make quite a difference in some end figures so the detail came in.  The release of an important document on the housing land supply by Durham County Council on the day everyone had to have their additional submissions in to the Inspector was considered problematic.  The Inspector said this should be revisited and an additional session at the beginning of Day 11, Tuesday 28th October before the Matter 13 on Housing was scheduled.  Those involved are expected to get  any additional submissions in.

On the practical side, an extension of the day before was noting how often documents were referred to by their EIP reference number, eg “R6”, “R4”.  It was noticeably easier than using what could be long titles and should give greater clarity by avoiding confusion between similarly titled documents.  With this in mind it would be useful to mark your documents up with the EIP reference numbers.

When putting your submissions in make sure you have checked for any inconsistencies and typos within and between your documents.  Also ensure that for the hearing you are using the latest edition of documents so when the Inspector, others and yourself start to refer to a paragraph, table, etc, it can be found.  Also be clear what “status” documents have as some have different “weight” and importance.  It also does no harm to have spare copies of your own documents, tables, maps, etc, which can be given to the Inspector if requested.  And finally, make sure you know your own documents inside out and can easily find anything referred to quickly.

So, the first week is done.  Next week has 4 days Tuesday to Friday, at least we now have an idea how things run.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer


Durham EIP Day 13 - Thursday 30th October 2014 – Observations from an observer

Matter 13, Part 2 – Housing

Policy 32: Houses in Multiple Occupation and Student Accommodation,

Policy 33: Sites for Travellers, Policy 34: Type and Mix of Housing

Policy 34: Type and Mix of Housing

What a morning!!!   I knew from listening to discussion at meetings before the EiP that “houses in multiple occupation” (HMOs), especially relating to student accommodation, was a mega issue in Durham City, but it was still fascinating to hear the discussions and presentations.  I also realised this topic was going to be in a different league when I knew Durham City’s MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods, was going to be there, bearing in mind she is Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government which covers planning.

The County Durham Green Party got the ball rolling outlining the issues of having a high percentage of town centre houses as HMOs lived in by students who are only there half of the year.  In some streets there are only one or two houses with permanent residents and all this has a massive impact on the vitality of the town centre. The effect even has its own term: “studentification”.  The City of Durham Trust had much to say and residents, councillors and various other groups in the City, such as the Sidegate Residents Association and Durham City Neighbourhood Plan Forum, joined in the chorus.  An additional aspect is the amount of private student blocks developers are building with many more in the pipeline.  This takes up brownfield sites which are then not available for family homes or any other us.  The University is not happy with these as it believes its collegiate system, where it provides accommodation, gives a better mix of types of students and there is pastoral support.  CPRE made the point that if there is no housing in the town centre for ordinary residents for whatever reasons it puts pressure on the surrounding area (including Green Belt) to have residential housing there instead.  The chorus was there had to be a strong, functional policy plus any other measures Durham County Council could use to deal with the problems.  Roberta was one of those who advocated the Council having an “Article 4 direction” by which “permitted development rights” can be suspended if local need requires it.  Other councils in other parts of the country have had them for years to deal with similar situations, but Durham has not, even though Roberta and others have been trying to get the Council to do something for years.  Roberta also made the revealing comment that if a policy can be worked out as part of the Plan the Secretary of State has said that it will have “weight” in planning decisions – a major statement as usually planning documents have limited “weight” until adopted.  In fairness to the Council they really only identified a particular policy would be needed for these issues in the consultation at the Preferred Options stage of the Plan so have not been working it for as long as some other topics (though should they have been aware earlier as it is obviously a long standing issue?), but in truth they basically looked under siege.  The officers gamely did their best to defend the policy and pointed out that actually a lot of the issues to do with student accommodation are covered in the Plan in various policies, eg policies on residential amenity, noise, parking, etc.  They also plan a Supplementary Planning Document on the topic – though the chorus was unanimous in considering this would be too late and wanted the policy in the Plan.  And the Council did comment that you cannot turn the clock back.  Unfortunately for them this clearly did not cut much ice with the chorus of representatives at the table and the public in the gallery.  What came as a bombshell was when the Inspector joined in and said that he was struck at the consensus and said something had to be worked out – and in a fortnight!!!  The Council had to organise it, but they and the various other parties had to get together and come up with something.  He even went so far as to suggest policies devised in Manchester, which had resisted 4 appeals, be used as the basis – and that an Article 4 Direction should be looked into.  The stunned groups and residents at the table, including the University, virtually fell over themselves to say they would be delighted to join in and help.  The tight timescale and suggested starting point, coming from where it has – the Inspector, is likely to really concentrate minds and minimise prevarication.  There was a distinct feeling the Inspector has had to preside at too many inquires where there was unclear or incomplete policy and he was left dealing with the consequences.  There is also a presumption he has checked up with them on high before he came out so solidly on the matter.  When the Examination broke for lunch the atmosphere was palpable with a sense of here was a chance to do something at last.  All we can hope is that the powers that be in the Council let their officers negotiate so everyone can work to find the best solution.

After all that as CPRE had not really commented on Policy 33: Sites for Travellers and Policy 34: Type and Mix of Housing so Richard and I left for the day.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Day 13 - Thursday 30th October 2014 – Observations from an observer

Matter 14 – Natural and Historic Environment

Except that is not what we started with.  Over the Examination the Inspector had given participants and the Council “homework”, sometimes a request for a piece of information, sometimes a request for parties to get together to see if they could resolve their differences and come up with a policy or text wording all were happy with.  Much of this “homework” is coming back and it is usual to deal with it before the main work of the day.  Often it is a short acknowledgement and passing on of information, but today there was an hours discussion on Policies 21 and 22 relating to Renewable and Low Carbon Energy and Wind Turbine Development.  Much agreement had been reached, but it was not total and the Inspector asked them to go off and keep going and come back.  What came out of it for me was the Inspector reckoning the Council could have gone further than it does with wind turbines and his outlining what happens if the Council and other parties cannot come to resolution.  He prefers this does not happen as he will have to come to a view which he will put in his interim report.  The point is that if one part of the plan is declared “unsound” the whole Plan is then “unsound”.

After an hour on alternative energy we had half an hour on housing.  A resident had been unable to come to the Tuesday session on housing due to a bereavement so the Inspector said he wold make time today.  Basically she was concerned that there were no sites allocated for housing for the elderly, especially in Durham City.  The Council consider this is covered in the social care aspect of their work and the Inspector did comment he thought it could be difficult to allocate sites in view of the viability studies which have been done.  The resident and the Council were asked to talk it over and report back.  From a practical point of view whilst the resident was not able to join in the discussion on Tuesday and put her thoughts in to all the housing issues covered and discover the response to her issue, I think she probably ended up having her topic given more time than might have been the case on Tuesday.  It also demonstrated that if there is some really major reason you cannot attend on the day of discussion it can be worth discussing this with the Inspector, via the Programme Officer, as alternative arrangements may be possible – though I would imagine matters would really have to be exceptional.  A final observation from this session is an Examination can be a place to get useful information, in this instance finding out that the Building Regulations are in the process of being updated to get more suitable homes for those with needs.

So, after a short break, onto the scheduled discussion for the day which covered a lot of policies.  For much of these it was more a representor wishing to ensure certain points were covered or clarified as they pretty much agreed with what was done, though there was some unhappiness on some issues:

Policies 35-36: Development in the Countryside and Equestrian Development

Durham County Council reckon Policy 35 and Policy 16 work together.  It was noted a place was either in a “built up area”, which is defined in the glossary, or it was not so was “countryside”.

Policy 37: North Pennines AONB

It was CPRE who were putting their pennyworth in here as we were concerned that this Plan, unlike the previous policy documents did not have the AONB policy documents as part of the Plan, only making reference to them.  The response from the Council was that they were a “material consideration” and the Inspector said he interprets “have regard to” as meaning the documents are a “material consideration” and that if they are not getting due weight it is a development control (planning application) matter the Plan cannot address.  However, we were distinctly happy that both the Council and the Inspector had said the AONB documents were effectively part of the Plan which is all we wanted.  It also left the Durham Bird Club happy as Richard had swopped hats and made the point there as well.

Policy 38: Durham Coast and Heritage Coast

This was covered quickly when the Council advised they had reordered the policy by putting all the points in one block for clarity and so all the criteria applied to all developments.

Policies 39-40: Landscape Character and Trees, Woodlands and Hedge

CPRE spoke on this one to clarify some things.  What did “planted ancient woodland” mean, as opposed to “ancient woodland”?  The Council explained this wording related to sites which were “ancient woodland” which had been planted with commercial trees and whilst it was not now “ancient woodland” the site still had some of the biodiversity/species surviving there and warranted protection.  A definition is to be added to the glossary.  Then there was the use of the words “harm” and “loss” in different policies – what did they mean and why the different words, was there a significance in the difference?  The Council’s response was “harm” equals “loss” and both can mean additional things such as “deterioration”.  It may seem pedantic, but if these things are not clarified and dealt with at this stage there could be major issues down the line with a planning application or at an appeal – we’ve been there, done that and do not want another tee-shirt.  The only people who gain are the lawyers and consultants if things are not clear.

Policies 41-43: Biodiversity and Geodiversity

The RSPB came in on this one as whilst they were OK with the principle of the polices they were really concerned at how the mechanics of the mitigation measures would be dealt with.  They have clearly had to deal with situations where things have not gone as they should with a development and they commented that the devil is in the detail.  The Inspector asked if they had any suggestions and they are to work with the Council, who believes they have a robust policy, to do a document which will include monitoring.  The Council noted a lot was done via development control.  CPRE were after clarity in the wording again, this time “avoidance” and “mitigation”.  The Council’s response was the polices are compliant with the Habitats Regulations so that should cover it.  We also mentioned the various significant birds in the county, such as black grouse, kites, etc, which we think should be mentioned in the policy or text, to which the Council responded the policy, Habitats Regulations, Wildlife and Countryside Act, etc, will cover matters.


Policies 44-45: Historic Environment, Durham Cathedral and castle World Heritage Site

Here the Council advised it had reworded policies relating to archaeological sites.  Then English Heritage came in to say they supported the rewording and to say they have worked with the Council and consider the Plan is as a whole positive.  However, they do not agree with the housing on site H5 in the Durham City North Quarter as they consider it is a most sensitive site in a critical setting so have a fundamental objection.  They do not consider there are enough “exceptional circumstances” to counter the disbenefits and are to produce fuller information at the site visit and in Part 2 of the Examination which deals with specific sites.  I’m not sure I would want English Heritage on the other side.  A site specific issue came up when Banks asked to have the Mount Oswald site removed from the list of historic parkland.  It was thought there could be some movement between them and the Council over the precise area to be covered, but basically the Council wishes to keep the designation to continue the protection.  The City of Durham Trust piped up next as they think the policy “soggy” and wanted more clarity.  However, they had only just presented their suggested rewording so the Inspector, who does not like new information people do not have time to consider, gave the Council until next week to have a look.  The Trust also dislikes the housing site H5.    Now, the University came in as they are waiting for the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the World Heritage Site and again the Inspector asked the two parties to go away and have some discussion, though the Council did say it is a long way down the line with the SPD.

Lunch was later than usual and very welcome – though shorter than usual, after all it was Friday.  We came back to a distinctly depleted room and a pretty bare table.  However, water management was crucial to those left.

Policy 46: Water Management

Water management is a pretty key topic when you were flooded out in 2007 and reckon an adjacent development had something to do with it, but it took 2 floods and a press report to get the developers to deal with it – and then you find the land the mitigating system is on has proposals for development.  The Council and the Inspector both saying it was a development control issue is not really what the resident wanted to hear I am sure.  Though the Inspector did say there have been many changes in the last few years and there is much more Councils, etc, can do and things have moved on.  The Council backed this up and CPRE reminded the Examination of the NPPF technical paper.  Will that resident, plus another one contributing to the session, sleep sounder in their beds knowing this?  As the second resident said in discussion afterwards, it’s all about confidence.  I was left wondering if the value for the flooded out resident was ensuring the Council’s attention was drawn to the site under threat of development in case a proposal/application came along?

Policy 47: Contaminated and Unstable Land

This was nice and swift as it was the Council saying they had introduced this policy in response to an objection at the Pre-Submission Draft and no one objected.

So the Examination was adjourned, a mid afternoon finish on a day which covered a plethora of issues.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer

Durham EIP Site Visit to Sidegate, Durham City – 7th November 2014 – Observations from a participant

Site visits give the Inspector a chance to look an area under discussion.  Often he is unaccompanied and goes out by himself, others are “accompanied” and participants are invited to the visit. Details of the visit giving location(s), timings and a map are sent out to the invitees and everyone turns up at the scheduled time and place.  As the invitees usually arrive that strategic amount of time early it is a chance to have a chat and start to finding out about each other and find out that everyone is human, including developers.  In truth this can be one of the most valuable aspects of a site visit as there are usually lots of times when it is possible for the invitees to chat with each other and explore each other’s perspective.  Note it is the invitees chatting with each other.  After introductions the Inspector advised us that the discussion took place in the Examination sessions and this was to look at places.  He was firm that whist we could say “Please look at that view”, or “This is the place I mentioned”, or “This is that place on the map”, we could not say “Isn’t this a lovely view”, “I wouldn’t build on this”, or such like.  Some of a site visit is about ensuring the Inspector goes to the places you wish him to see, though the best time to do this is with the programme officer when the visit is being arranged to have them put it/them into the timetable.

We were going round the Sidegate area due to the H5 housing area.  Developers have proposals for housing, others do not wish to see them.  English Heritage is unhappy at the effect on the setting of the cathedral to the extent of sending two members of staff.

Walking round it was hard to take in that there was somewhere so rural so close to the city centre, what a delight.  The views of the cathedral were superb, on one occasion quite literally breathtaking.  It did not take much imagination to think the view from the cathedral would include this area, presumably someone will be going to have a look.

Going round the developers were understandably ensuring the Inspector had a good understanding of what was where on the map/plan, others were just making sure he did see all that they wished that he see.  That it was a lovely bright, sunny, day did help, the views may not have been so good on a rainy day.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE

Durham EIP Policy 32 meeting – 7th November 2014 – Observations from a participant

On a number of occasions at the EiP the Inspector asked parties to get together and discuss a way forward.  One such meeting was that called on:

Policy 32 – Houses in Multiple Occupation and Student Accommodation, plus an Article 4 Direction

During the EiP the discussion on this topic, which is of great significance for Durham City, went round the houses and ended up with the Inspector calling halt and requesting the Council and the interested parties to get together and come up with a wording they could agree on, or if they didn’t agree a note of what they didn’t agree on. He also he said it should be based on the policy in the Manchester Core Strategy which had already withstood 4 appeals – and had gave us a fortnight to do it!  The Council was to organise proceedings and they and the University and the Friends of Durham Green Belt came up with alternative wording, based on the Manchester wording, which was brought to the meeting in County Hall on a wet afternoon.

With a couple of dozen people, including representatives from many residents associations, filling the committee room there were ideas flying from all over.  The Council’s document was used as the basis to give some structure to the meeting, but the toing and froing between the documents, references to Manchester’s and Canterbury’s policies, plus everyone’s comments, made keeping up with what was happening an interesting exercise, I got lost a few times!  The discussion often went very technical with much pedantic discussion over words – but in an appeal situation the definition and way a word is used could be critical, it is what is actually said that matters, not what is intended.  There were explanations and clarifications and much consensus.  Of course not everyone agreed on everything, but it was interesting just how much common ground there was and the overriding desire to come up with a sound policy, a tall order in the time available.

The end result was officers will draw up a revised wording based on the discussion which they will circulate for comment before handing it in to the Inspector next Friday.  They will also include a note of differing views expressed where relevant.  A week sounds like a long time, but in this context it is a very short time.

Part of all this was discussion on an “Article 4 Direction” which a council can put in place to take control of an aspect of planning for which “permitted development rights” exist.  Other councils have done this in relation to student housing and many think Durham should have also done so a long time ago.  It is a separate process to the Plan process, but with the Inspector saying it should be looked into the Council is going to have to do just that.  However, that will take some time so in discussing Policy 32 elements were included which will cover matters where necessary until a Direction is in place.

My thought was this meeting demonstrated just how complicated a topic can get and the complexity of covering all the possibilities in a succinct wording which will stand up to the appeal process – and that appeal process does need to be remembered, as does the need to devise a “sound” plan.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE

Durham EIP Day 15 - Tuesday 11th November 2014 – An observers' observations

Matter 15 – Transport and infrastructure

Policy 48 covers sustainable transport and various groups consider the Plan does not go far enough.  DBUG (Durham Bicycle Users Group), Friends of Durham Green Belt and the City of Durham Trust, plus Richard with both his CPRE and Bishop Auckland Cycling Club hats on consider the Plan should have walking and cycling in particular much more embedded and in policy, not just mentioned in the text.  It was good to hear Durham County Council say they will cross reference the Cycling Action Strategy in the Plan.  Whilst pleased with this the groups would still like to see much better design and provision for cycling and pedestrians considered from the earliest stages of a project, not as an afterthought the way some projects, such as the proposed North Road bus station, Durham City, seem to in the opinion of the cycling fraternity.  Busses were mentioned, but as the Council explained they don’t have any powers so there is a limit to what the Plan can say so they can’t do much more than “encourage”.  At the end of this section the Inspector suggested DBUG and the Council get together and that is to happen.

Policy 49 Delivering Sustainable Transport

Policy 50 Provision Allocating and safeguarding Transport Routes and Facilities

These two topics were rolled in together with Policy 50 listing schemes.  Note was made here of the recently North East Combined Authority which is to have responsibility for transport and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NE LEP).  The latter has 3 major transport aspirations: improving the Western Bypass; improving the A19; and reopening the Leamside railway line.  There was much consideration of the issues around reopening the Leamside line which is seen as very desirable, but most likely a long way in the future.  Other discussion covered the omission of the Barnard Castle Relief Road from the Plan as locals are concerned in particular by occasions when the A66 is closed, which often happens in the winter due to snow, and all the lorries have to come through the town as they cannot use the County Bridge.  Discussion on non vehicle provision continued and the Council made clear that “highways” included provision for walkers, cycling and horses and also explained that the proposed cycling super routes were those for work and school and the secondary routes were seen as more for leisure and tourism.  The North Road bus station came up again and the Council said it was early days, so if you are not happy with those proposals keep the pressure on.

Policy 51 Utilities, telecommunications and other broadcast infrastructure brought particular consideration of broadband provision.  Teesdale Action Partnership (TAP) in particular were pressing for decent coverage in all the dales as broadband is an essential utility now.  The Government has made £1.2 billion available for areas where there is no commercial feasibility and other money is available.  Whilst the projection is for 97% coverage that will still leave 3% uncovered.  TAP would like to see a more proactive approach with more proactive wording in the Plan. Durham County Council advised the Digitial Durham Project where the council is working with BT expects Phase 1 to be complete in 2016 with 96% of proberties having broadbamd.  Ultimately the plan is to have 100% of properties having at least 2 MB per second.  Already ahead of schedule they are aiming for 24 MB for all.  It was noted the policy covers all sort of telecommunications and TAP preferred to see broadband disentangled and this is to be investigated.


Gillan Gibson, CPRE observer.

Durham EIP Day 16 - Wednesday 12th November 2014 – A participant’s observations

The morning started with CPRE’s number one person conspicuous by his absence (traffic and other issues) so I was asked if I could take his place so proceedings could begin.  All I could think was at least they were issues I have commented on over the years so I was better prepared than for many other topics.  The moral is, if you are backup be ready to step in when required so be prepared.  Mind, the sense of relief as when my colleague came through the door was noticeable, though I did stay at the table for the rest of the day.

Matter 16 – Minerals and Waste

This was a canter through many policies where there had been broad agreement on many sides, but with some issues people were not happy with.

Minerals, Policies 52 to 62

For a long time Durham County Council has had a minerals strategy with much agreed for many years so this is generally not a contentious part of the Plan.  In addition there is to be an additional, separate, Minerals and Waste Policy Development Plan, planned for 2016, which will cover the matter as well.  As it will be a Development Plan Document (DPD), rather than a Supplementary Document (SDP) it will be of a level that will mean it is part of the Durham Plan and will carry great weight.

Discussion was more about ways of strengthening the Plan and making what it covered more obvious.  For example there was much discussion on fracking and the various other unconventional gas and oil extraction methods, or unconventional hydrocarbons as they can also be referred to.  If you but know there are policies in the Plan and the existing planning policy documents to deal with any application which may come forward, but they are not obvious and more reference is to be made to them.  Future proofing was also considered as new ways of recovering oil and gas keep coming forward.  It was noted fracking is unlikely in County Durham in at least the short to medium term, but the situation does need monitoring.  As for all the other mineral their policies were systematically worked through.  It is easy to forget just how many important materials Durham has and discussion covered aggregates, dolomite, brick making clays, coal, fireclay and building stone.

Waste, Policies 63 to 65

The room had been pretty bare in the morning for the minerals section, but after lunch it felt very, very, empty.  As Richard and I sat down and looked around everyone realised that there was the Inspector and his team, the Council’s team, and us two!  We were it!  However, as with much of this day, it was a topic where we had given broad support and more wished to emphasise a few points such as ensuring waste is not trucked and/or imported unnecessarily and making sure that developments which require waste as a feedstock will have enough to operate before they are given permission.

It only took until 2.20 to deal with matters so it was another early finish and I went for a walk along the River Wear, as I have often done when there has been an early finish.  It is a beautiful stretch of the river and confirms why we work to develop a good sound Plan and to ensure so far as possible the planning applications process gives in the best result for the area and its residents

Gillan Gibson, CPRE participant.

Durham EIP Day 17 - Thursday 13th November 2014 – Observations

Monitoring and Implementation

As we did not have an invitation we decided not to attend this day, it had been a long haul.  However, it turned out it probably would have been a good idea to have been there.

Earlier the Inspector had asked the campaign groups and the Council to get together to see if they could come to some agreement about Policy 32 on, to oversimplify, student housing.  It was a contentious issue and there is a note of my observations of a meeting that was held on 7th November in this set of observations.  As a result of that meeting the Council had drawn up a document which it had tabled to the Examination.  The campaign groups were not happy at the content so on the Thursday morning had brought their version to table to the Examination.  By all accounts there was a 2 hour discussion and a comment I had made about there not being total unanimity was picked on by the council’s barrister who implied the campaign groups were not unified.  Of course since I was not there I could not clarify anything.  I meant there were differences between the campaign groups and the Council, not within the campaign groups.  By all accounts the Durham Plan proceedings have been very civilised, but we have heard stories of other EiPs where barristers were picking up on every last word and comment and proceedings being quite unpleasant.  Even so, though the Durham EiP was civilised it did bring an awareness you do have to be careful what you say and there is merit in going to sessions you are not scheduled to speak at so you are there if something unexpected comes up.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE participant.

Durham EIP Site Visit to Tursdale and Durham Green –18th November 2014 – Observations from a participant

Durham Green:  A small party collected in the service station and walked over the road to look at the Durham Green site.  It was interesting to view and have outlined the area which had been mentioned so often in the EiP.

Tursdale:  Next we moved the cars and parked up so we could walk the footpath to the track bed of the Leamside Line to have a look at the Tursdale site.  Though the rain had held off the ground was distinctly wet and those with wellies or other such waterproof footwear were glad of their choice.  Not that that was the only challenge as at one fence there was the delectable choice between a wobbly “A” ladder over the fence, or climbing the over the fence itself – though at least it did not have barb wire on it!  There are times when it helps to be agile.  Still, the walk was worth the effort as once up the steps on the embankment the countryside was spread out below on both sides and the officers were able to show the boundaries of the site with ease.  For me it was another time when it was good to see what had been spoken of so often, both with the Tursdale site and the Leamside Line – the reopening of the Line is an aspiration for many people and organisations and  it was frequently mentioned and seeing it on the ground it made a lot of sense.

It was back to the cars and after good byes I thought of how handy the service station was for lunch before I moved to Durham for the Northern Relief Road site visit in the afternoon.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE

Durham EIP Site Visit re Northern Relief Road –18th November 2014 – Observations from a participant

With the rain gone and the sun out, or at least trying to get out, it was a good time to look at the countryside the Western Relief Road will go through if built.

1.00 pm almost a dozen of us started at western end of the route looking at where the road would join into the existing network.  The council had prepared maps and aerial views and one of the officers showed and described where the first roundabout would be and its route through the fields, with others supplying technical detail on whether there would be cuttings, etc.  This patient explanation and pointing out of landmarks and other ways of enabling a clear comprehension of the route and the form the road would take was the order of the day.  It was clear a great deal of thought had been given to the route and doing all feasible to settle it into the landscape and reduce its impact.  The route is predominantly behind and below the ridge to the north of the “Durham Bowl” as viewed from the south to minimise any impact on the views from the direction of the Cathedral.  However, when viewed from St Hild’s College there will be no hiding the uprights for the bridge which will show to the right of the cathedral.  3 different types of bridge are being considered to work out what will be most acceptable, though the detailed work for this will be done closer to the time if proposals for the road go forward.  Of course, this presupposes you want the road.  With a CPRE hat on all I could think of was what beautiful open countryside the road route goes through, do we really want to ruin it?   I wouldn’t want to see that happen and I have met plenty of people who think the same way.

On a practical note it took some imagination by the council officers to find places where we could see where the route was and its significant points when most of it is through open countryside.  We parked up at 6 different places (yup, this was done by car) scattered right around the city and its environs.  Sometimes it was 10 minutes or so looking at a view, others saw us walking through fields and down paths and bridleways – wellies were definitely an advantage.  With a good description of the walking involved participants could choose whether to do a particular section.  There were a few steep sections and one big flight of countryside steps, but it was worth it for the views.  A comment from a few people was how often you would turn a corner and suddenly there would be a superb view of the Cathedral – you really had to be careful if you were driving!!!

As always chatting with others on the visit was a productive exercise.  Explanations were freely available to assorted questions, some on the road, others just plain curiosity. I was intrigued to find the programme officer who has kept the very complicated administrative wheels moving in this Examination is an independent consultant some councils bring in to run their inquiries.  Her expertise and knowledge made for a much smoother event than could be the case.  On this visit the Inspector was more open to discourse than is sometimes the case (sometimes he has to be quite restrictive) and he finished the day checking that everyone had said all they wished to say.  I had noticed during the afternoon he had often checked when were at a particular place that there was no point/place people wished him to see.

In truth a most enjoyable walk out, in superb Durham countryside, in great company.

Gillan Gibson, CPRE

Durham EIP Site Visit re Western Relief Road –19th November 2014 – Observations from a participant

Showers brought the brollies out as we met at the Broom Park Picnic Site at the southern end of the proposed Western Relief Road.  We began with a look at the location for the roundabout for where it meets the existing road at a right angle.  I have always wondered at such an apparently important road (they are going to spend a fortune on it) suddenly coming to an end.  Also, I gather part of the job of the road is to relieve the junction at Neville’s Cross, but is it not just bringing everything in further south so moving the problem, not curing it?  Anyhow, this first stop was also a good place to gain an insight into the proposed width of the road.  The two council officers did their double act of one showing and explaining the route’s location and how the road fitted into the landscape and the second dealing with any technical information and questions.  Their clarity and patience was boundless.  In general the new road would be about the same with as the B6302 as it reached the top of the hill from where we stood, so in truth the new road would be about the same with as the existing single carriageway road that it meets. (why did I always think it was much wider than it is and does the narrower width make a difference?).  Of note to me was it does just launch straight into open countryside.  This was a close up view, the next was a long view as we went up to Bearpark and appeared to turn into a back lane to park up and find the most amazing view of the Browney Valley – I see why everyone is so passionate about it.  All I can say is the officers must have spent a long time working out where to go to find the best locations to demonstrate the route and have parking nearby with the minimum number of stops and walking.  Though having said that about parking one of our number did all bar the last of the sites on his bicycle and he only missed the last one out as he had to go to work.  This stop it was the pylons and farm buildings which helped describe where the route is proposed though the fields.  It was also where a local historian pointed out the immense historical importance of the area over the centuries, describing a vast range of features.

Next we dropped down to get a closer look at the route and then down the valley again to where the road will cross the Browney near the Aldin Grange Bridge.  In some ways the easiest route would have been to go over by the bridge, but its history and heritage made that undesirable so the route was moved downstream where there will have to be a fair sized bridge to get it over the road due to the steep terrain.  This was one example of where the design aims to settle the road into the landscape to reduce its visibility as much as possible.  Though that presupposes you want the road which may of us do not.  To reach the next stop we left the cars where they were and walked south along the Lanchester Railway Path.  Clearly a very well used bridleway a carefully made sign against the road left no one in any doubt of the locals’ views.  The number of walkers and cyclists coming in the other direction was noticeable and as we came close to the crossing point a group could be seen in the distance.  We stopped in a place where a gap in the hedge allowed a view of the valley and the proposed route which was particularly difficult to pick out.  As we stood their people from the crossing point started to wander down and began answering questions one of the council officers answered.  Truth is the Inspector is there to observe the route and not get into discussion, but he was close enough to hear all and as well as the numbers there (3 or 4 dozen of all ages, including someone on a disability scooter) will not have failed to registered the unhappiness and objection.  Key comments I registered were the lack of consultation with the local farmers and concern that the bridleway crossing would be an “at grade” one with a road with a national speed limit, the officer certainly had his work cut out responding to the questions.  Truth is at any point the Inspector could have legitimately brought the proceedings to an end, but he let people have their say and asked those who were prepared to do so (as it would become a public document) to put their name on a list.  There was time for me to wander down to the actual crossing point and appreciate the very rolling countryside and the technical problems the road route must address as it comes off the hill, over the Browney and up the other side.  It is going to be visible for a long way.

Back to the cars and bike and a bit further down the valley again and a stop from which we could walk north up a path to Club Lane.  This path brought long, long, views of the valley and way beyond.  The typography is also very rolling and the best design in the world is not going to hide the road totally.  It was as we were climbing up to Club Lane that the Inspector mentioned that it was tranquil and looked at me.  An interesting comment from a man of few words, and I am probably reading too much into it, but “tranquillity” is a long standing issue for CPRE and we have been promoting its importance and a method of measuring it for a long time (as an aside the initial trial work was done in Northumberland).  In my view the road would very much bring a loss of tranquillity and all the positives it represents.  Whist it is a predominantly a noise based measure, it does bring in a wider sense as we use our senses together so the visual element is of some relevance and of course the visual impact of the road will be truly detrimental.  The turn into Club Lane brought some spectacular views down the valley into the far, far, distance from the path, they seemed to get better and better at every gap in the hedge. How visible, I wondered would the road be from down there, or perhaps is the question really how visible will the vehicles be?  There will be no hiding the final stretch of the road as it rises to Sniperly roundabout where it meets the road network.

Our next viewing point was a footbridge over the A167, just south of the school, where the views down the valley were truly impressive again.  On again and to the Sniperley Park and Ride.  We crossed the road and looked SSW across the fields and I reckoned if you had to pick one place to view the route in the landscape this was probably it.  You cannot see the far end, but it is this northern end where the landscape is more rolling and the views so long that the road is likely to have most impact.  There was another example of a wish to pick a route of least impact when we were advised it was originally planned to go to the left of a large group of trees, until it was found there was a humongous water main it was not feasible to move.  It’s a shame roads can’t be as hidden as that water main was (it was probably why there was a gap in the hedge/trees!).  So, they tried to save the trees, but if the road is built they will be coming down.

Personally, standing looking out over the route of the road and then looking right down, down, the beautiful valley I cannot comprehend what justifies a road through that landscape.  As demonstrated, I am not the only one to think like that as there is so much local opposition.  So why is it still a possibility???

Gillan Gibson, CPRE

Durham EiP – Interim Report published 18th February 2015

There is delight within the campaign groups on reading the Inspector’s summary to his Interim Report.  On many of the really important issues he has taken on board the concerns and views of the campaign groups.  In particular he has: considered the housing need to be too high; the Green Belt policies flawed, in particular relating to the release of sites for 4,000 unnecessary dwellings; and the Western and Northern Relief Roads unjustified, undeliverable, not environmentally acceptable and should be deleted from the Plan.  The full text of his summary is below.  The full report is here

It will take time to read and consider the implications of the whole 29 page report in depth.  It is to be remembered this is an interim report, not the final one, and Part 2 of the Examination on individual sites has yet to happen, but it does bode well.

The hope will be the aspects of the Plan which require reassessment can be clearly identified and revisions made and consulted upon to produce a “sound” Plan.  It is sometimes easy to forget, after so much time was spent talking about housing numbers, Green Belt and the roads, that there is a tremendous amount in the Plan that everyone does agree and is happy on.  We certainly do not want the Plan withdrawn and going back to square one as has happened in at least one authority.

I suppose my simplistic view at this very early stage is that if: lower housing figures are accepted so only 20,000 houses are needed, rather than 31,000, so the loss of the 4,000 Green Belt houses is not an issue; the Green Belt is not redesignated; and without the housing the relief roads are not required and deleted, it would be great.

Everyone is going to have to work together on all of this to gain the best for County Durham’s future.  

For information the key summary from the Interim Report is:

“DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL INSPECTORS INTERIM VIEWS, Stage 1 County Durham Plan Examination, published 18.2.2015…

4. In summary, my [the Inspector’s] interim views are that:

 The Council has met the minimum legal requirement of the Duty to Co-operate;

 The objective assessment of housing needs is too high because the Council’s vision for a successful local economy incorporates unrealistic assumptions about jobs growth and associated in-migration. There are also shortcomings in the housing requirement in terms of calculating the residual for allocation figure;

 The proposed settlement hierarchy seems to be justified, effective and soundly based but the spatial distribution is not justified particularly in respect of Durham City. Further work is needed to justify the spatial distribution of development, including addressing the needs of settlements not constrained by the Green Belt in the Central, North, East and South Delivery Areas;

 The process and evidence relating to the proposed amendments to the Green Belt boundary are flawed, particularly in relation to the release of sites to accommodate some 4,000 unnecessary dwellings in Durham’s Green Belt. A full review of non-Green Belt sources of supply should be undertaken. Policies 6, 7, 8 and 14 are not sound;

 The proposed Western and Northern Relief Roads are not justified, deliverable or environmentally acceptable. They are incompatible with the Government’s soundness tests and directly threaten the achievement of sustainable development.  The Relief Road proposals should be withdrawn as unsustainable and unnecessary. The CDP needs to protect and exploit opportunities for the use of sustainable travel modes and make the fullest possible use of public transport provision, cycling and walking. Policy 9 and Policy 10 should be deleted from the Plan;

 Policies 12 and 13 in relation to Executive Housing would not accord with policies in the NPPF and would fail the Government’s soundness test;

 There are concerns about the content and soundness of policies in relation to Houses in Multiple Occupation and Student Accommodation. The PMEHC for Policy 32 is not sound, effective or sufficient to achieve more balanced communities;

 Most of the concerns about the content and soundness of other strategic policies can probably be overcome by detailed amendments to the wording of the policies and accompanying text.  

Durham EiP – Interim Report – Meeting Mon 9th Mar 15

Further to the publication of the Interim Report the campaign groups have arranged to have a meeting on:

Monday 9th March 2015, Ramside Hall, Durham (near A1(M)/A690 junction), 10.00 am

See here

Local Plans meeting

The current situation for a number of Local Plan planning policy documents was discussed by campaign groups on Monday 9th March 2015.

Newcastle/Gateshead Core Strategy:  They started by noting the Planning Inspectors Final Report which adjudged the document,  subject to some modification, to be “sound” and that the two councils are now proceeding on this basis and looking for early adoption.

County Durham:  It was the Inspector’s Interim Report on the Durham Plan which was the largest topic of conversation.  This contains a great deal the groups wished to see and it was noted  56 of the 65 policies have passed the process and only 9 policies are still problematic.  The groups wish to follow through their request to meet with the Council to discuss the best way forward to achieve a “sound” Plan.  In the meantime planning applications will be monitored and commented upon with the groups wishing to see the 54 accepted policies given “weight” in the Council’s deliberations.

Sunderland and South Tyneside:  Threading through the discussion was an awareness these 2 authorities are at a very early stage in revising their Plans with the 2 councils currently consulting jointly on an International Advance Manufacturing Park and South Tyneside additionally running an online survey on the use of public open spaces.

Neighbourhood Plans:  These were mentioned on a number of occasions and are seen to be a valuable way for residents to influence what happens in their area.  It was emphasised that in the present situation they should be produced as soon as possible.

There is to be another meeting in a month’s time so watch for details of date, time and venue.

On 18th March 2015 Durham County Council Cabinet was asked by campaign groups the following question:

Progressing the County Durham Local Plan

The Inspector's interim report on the submitted County Durham Plan finds only 9 of its 65 policies to be fundamentally unsound.  We are confident that most of the Plan's policies are essentially good and any concerns about them can be met through amendments to wording.  Accordingly, how will the Council work with interested bodies, community groups and organisations across the County to produce a sound sustainable economic regeneration Plan for County Durham as soon as possible?”

Councillor Foster responded and noted the point most policies were good, but he said the problematic ones are key ones.  The Council considers they still need to weigh matters up and are asking for legal advice and are to meet with the Planning Inspectorate.  When they know what the situation is they are committed to working with everyone.

Campaign groups did point out the Council met very quickly with business people, and that it would be fruitful for them to meet with the campaign groups as well.  There is concern the clock is ticking and ways forward need to be found.  No one knew at which point the clock started to tick in relation to the option of suspending the Plan, which is normally for up to 6 months.

The Cabinet Chair summed up and said:  it was always a long process developing a Plan; the Council was right not to rush; the door will be open and the Council will talk at the appropriate time; and the Council is to meet with the Inspectorate in the next week or two.

Gillan Gibson

Progressing the Durham Plan – Letter to the Planning Inspectorate and response

A letter was written to the Planning Inspectorate by The City of Durham Trust on behalf of campaign groups concerned at the situation with regard to the Durham Plan following publication of the Examination in Public Interim Report.  The Inspectorate’s reply contained much the campaign groups were delighted to read.  

To view letters in pop up window click links  Letter to Inspectorate / Response from inspectorate

Gillan Gibson

CPRE Durham website – Durham Plan Update

Judicial Review applied for by Durham County Council - 22nd May 2015

Durham Plan – Major developments

After much inactivity things have suddenly moved quickly.  Following the publication of 4 key documents it is now known that Durham County Council has applied for a Judicial Review, and cited CPRE as an “interested party”.  CPRE National Office have been advised and it is very much a case of “watch this space” to see exactly what that involves.

In summary:

Durham Plan – 4 key documents

Durham County Council has put 4 documents on its website relating to the Durham Plan and their communication with the Planning Inspectorate.  They are:

 1 - Note of Meeting between Durham County Council and the Planning Inspector  2 April 2015 View Here

 2 - DCC Letter to The Planning Inspector View Here

 3 - Independent Review of the Inspectors findings on the CDP View Here

 4 - Letter from The Planning Inspectorate View Here

DCC meeting 19th May 15

Following notification of the 4 documents above Durham County Council called a meeting of stakeholders where they announced they have applied for a Judicial Review.  The PowerPoint presentation is to be placed on the Council’s website

Judicial Review

On 21st May 2015 CPRE  had a file box of papers (a pile of papers 3 and a quarter inches high) delivered and found it was an official bundle of papers which named CPRE  as an “interested party”.  CPRE National Office has been notified but the implications, if any, are not know at the point of writing this report (22nd May 15).

A Judicial Review is a two stage process and the first one is whether the Court will “give leave” for the Council to take their case forward.  If they do not get “leave” they will have to reassess the situation.

Durham Plan Judicial Review campaign groups meeting – 3rd June 2015

Discussion about the Durham Plan Judicial Review at the meeting on Monday 1st June centered about what being an "interested party" meant and its liabilities, especially financial, plus what the process was. When someone applies for Judicial Review it is a two stage process and the first is when a judge views the bundle of papers and decides whether there is a case to be answered.

If there is the applicant is given "leave" to go to the High Court, if not the application fails and Durham County Council will have to consider its options.  This first stage brings no major financial liabilities, unless it is decided to instruct and pay for a barrister, only the cost in time and effort if it is decided to put a document into the court.  The three campaign groups listed as “interested parties” ((CPRE, City of Durham Trust and Friends of Durham Green Belt)CPRE, City of Durham Trust and Friends of the Durham Green Belt) are compiling documents, but will be reviewing their situation as more information about Judicial Reviews is found out.

Durham Plan Judicial Review – Campaign groups submissions to the court and update

When Durham County Council filed their application for a Judicial Review, after the publication of the Inspector’s Interim Report, they listed CPRE, the City of Durham Trust and the Friends of the Durham Green Belt as “interested parties”.  Whilst the Judicial Review is about process, not content, there were matters in the Statement of Case submitted by Durham County Council which the groups wished to address.  Consequently each has submitted a Statement to the Court.  They can be found:

CPRE                                       Click here

City of Durham Trust                 Click here
 Friends of Durham Green Belt   Click here

Additionally CPRE has received a letter dated 15 June from the Planning Court in Leeds. The significant paragraph reads:

“At the direction of Mr Justice Lindblom, I write to inform you that this case has been categorised as "significant" under paragraph 3.1 of Practice Direction 54E. Your attention is drawn to the provisions of paragraphs 3.2 to 3.4 of the Direction.”

Here is a link to Practice Direction 54E.  It appears the key points are that (a) there are tighter timescales so it should be heard more quickly than other less significant cases and (b) by a judge experienced in these matters.

Durham Plan – Judicial Review campaign groups meeting on 19th October 2015

Having stayed quiet over the summer whilst the Judicial Review played out the “Ramside Gang, or is it now the “Antioch Gang” as the last couple of meetings have been in St Margaret of Antioch’s community hall, had a meeting to assess where we were.

Needless to say discussion began with just exactly what had happened with the Judicial Review, or as much as we could make sense of it!  We’ve always warned people unhappy at decisions that whilst Judicial Review existed it was not to be undertaken lightly.  Court orders of stunning succinctness, which take for granted full knowledge of all aspects of the case, did not say what the effects of their provisions would be.  Sometimes it was clear, but sometimes it had to be thought through and it quickly became clear that access to top quality legal advice was important.  As it turned out the process on this occasion did not develop any distance, but if it had you could quickly see how legal fees could stack up.  In a different context recently a local residents group wanted advice from counsel (a barrister) and had to pay £2,200 up front – for one piece of work.  There is going to be a separate note outlining what happened over the summer with the Judicial Review, but in the end, and oversimplified, the Secretary of State (who has responsibility for the Planning Inspectorate) and Durham County Council came to an agreement that the Secretary of State was prepared to accept the Inspector had not been inquisitorial enough in the Examination in Public (EiP) and Durham County Council was prepared to withdraw the Durham Plan and produce a “refreshed” plan for consultation which would go forward to a new Examination in Public with a new inspector.  Needless to say the Antioch Gang are groaning at the thought of a new EiP.  Though actually the hard work has already begun on all sides.  

It was thought key outcomes from the Judicial Review were:

1. At the start of the next EiP an appropriate time would be found to ask in an appropriate way how the inspector would address the “inquisitorial” aspect and how any risk of another challenge could be avoided

2. The only point the Secretary of State conceded was the inspector acted in a procedurally incorrect manner.  He did not concede on any of the content of the Interim Report.  The Antioch Group plan to use the content of the Interim Report at the next EiP, though it is not thought to have any weight when dealing with planning applications, though people are using it when it suites them.

3. What about the situation in the interim? – This remained a question.

So having licked their wounds and considered the past the Antioch Group are already looking forward and engaging with the Council and its consultants on the work required for the “refreshing”.  The objective is a “sound” Durham Plan with as many of the provisions the Antioch Group wish to see in, and not in, as possible.  Cooperation is now the order of the day.

And there is a lot going on with various groups and individuals picking up various batons:

1. Durham County Council has produced a Cabinet Paper of how the Council will deal with planning applications, giving presumptions for and against various aspects.  Gillan Gibson will have a copy she can forward.

2. There has been a consultation on the policies relating to student accommodation – which covers the whole county and not just Durham City.  The proposed wording is meeting with approval (it is very much what campaigners suggested) and the only argument is over the area which should be covered.  The Durham University Residents Forum, which includes representatives of the university, including students, and various residents associations is in active discussions with Durham County Council.

3. A licensing scheme for landlords is being looked at, it is currently voluntary.

4. Control of “to let” boards is currently a voluntary scheme which is not working.

5. Extending the conservation area in Durham City is being looked at.

6. There has been work auditing cycle routes, eg in Chester Le Street, where the “Active Travel Wales” method has been used which cycle groups are pleased about.

7. Durham County Council has commissioned consultants to study sustainable transport in Durham City.  They have been asked to finish by the end of October 2015.

8. The Strategic Housing Marketing Assessment (SHMA) is being worked on.

9. The Durham County Council budget is being discussed, this is relevant as it will affect what resources are available for planning work.

With various groups and individuals looking at various aspects it was thought a list of ongoing work with who was working on what would be useful and Gillan Gibson is going to draft one.  In addition a table listing the aspects of the Plan where groups consider they have strengths would be useful.  It can also be used to identify gaps in coverage, but with limited volunteer manpower it may have to be accepted the depth of involvement on topics will be variable.

Neighbourhood Plans

With the delay in the Plan’s progress previous meetings of the Antioch Group has identified Neighbourhood Plans as important and where possible worth progressing.  There were representatives of 3 organisations working on Neighbourhood Plans at the meeting:

Sedgefield: This Plan was accepted by the Council in August and it was expected it would take 2 weeks for the Council to go onto the next stage – but it is now mid October and nothing has happened.  Residents are getting frustrated.

Durham City: Currently at the first “priority setting” stage it is hoped to have some draft policies by April 2016 and an “Issues and Options” document by the end of that year.  They are in discussion with those involved in the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan which is much further on in the process and they are proving very helpful.  Particular care is to be taken to ensure developers are included in the process.

Bowburn and Parkhill:  At an early stage, there are ideas for development sites, though they do not include the Parkhill one the Council was minded to approve for housing.

Progress of Plans around the region

An offer was made to compile a table of the state of Local and Neighbourhood Plans in the region which was gratefully accepted.

Costs re the failed EiP

Richard Cowen is investigating whether campaign groups can claim expenses from the Secretary of State for the time and money they invested in the failed EiP.

Note by Gillan Gibson