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Agenda item

DM/18/02369/FPA - The Sands Carpark And Durham Sixth Form Car Park Site, Freemans Place, Durham

Erection of office headquarters with associated car parking (inclusive of a multi-storey car park) with associated landscaping, highway and infrastructure works and demolition of existing structures.


The Committee considered a report of the Principal Planning Officer regarding an application for the erection of office headquarters with associated car parking (inclusive of a multi-storey car park) with associated landscaping, highway and infrastructure works and demolition of existing structures (for copy see file of Minutes).


H Jones, Principal Planning Officer provided a detailed presentation of the application which included a site location plan, aerial photographs, site photographs, site layout, elevations, and views.  Members of the Committee had visited the site the previous day and were familiar with the location and setting.


The Principal Planning Officer provided the Committee with the following updates since the publication of the report:


·         A total of 1,013 letters of representation had now been received, of which 1005 were letters of objection. There were 8 letters in support.

·         A petition of 1,150 signatures had been received from St Nicholas Community Forum in objection to the proposals.

·         Durham City Freemen had submitted 2 letters of objection and Officers consider that the report at paragraph 143 was reflective of most of the key points raised. However Officers' wanted to make Members aware that a point had been made in their second submission which had not been summarised in the report.  This referred to flood risk and a 1 in a 100 year probability of a severe flood event, and noted that there had been at least 3 significant flood events in 25 years. In addition paragraph 143 made reference to the cursory consideration of alternative sites and their second submission elaborated on this.


Councillor Scott, spoke on behalf of the City of Durham Parish Council and in objection to the proposed development.

She referred to the number of objections and public demonstrations as an indicator that as well as being unpopular with the people in the city, it was also unpopular throughout the County, receiving only 8 letters of support in comparison to 956 letters of objection.

The City of Durham Parish Council did not object to the business case to move County Hall to another site, but objected to the site, it was not right for residents, business or the Council.

Councillor Scott presented a number of slides which included photographs of the area.  She referred to traffic that would be generated from the new site, which would be detrimental to highway safety and increased air pollution.  This would have a significant effect on the amenity of the occupiers of neighbouring properties, including Durham Sixth Form Centre.  For those reasons it breached Saved Policy T1.  She highlighted the traffic report included in the report and considered it vital to the Committee’s decision.

Councillor Scott referred to the requirement of a five-storey car park which was already sited on a dangerous junction.  She queried the allocation of staff parking spaces when both the Passport Office and National Savings & Investments were allowed none.
  She referred to the impact on wildlife and ecology which was contrary to policies E16 and E19 in the Local Plan.

Councillor Scott considered the proposed development would have a detrimental impact on businesses.  The loss of the coach park would risk tourist coaches not stopping in Durham anymore and the loss of the open-air car park would prevent traders from parking vans in the City as the multi-storey entrances were too low.  Both were contrary to policy T16.

Councillor Scott considered the proposed development would damage the setting of the
World Heritage Site.  It would be contrary to Saved Policy E3 which restricted development to safeguard local and long distance views to and from the accordance with policies E1, E5, E6, E10, E23 and E24.

Councillor Scott continued that the Council could have a civic presence in the town and an alternative location for back officer staff in an alternative location.  The HQ could be built at Aykley Heads or it could be built on the site of Milburngate House which offered advantages over the confined proposed development site, and was the Cabinet’s original choice.

Finally Councillor Scott drew Members attention to the Officer’s report with regards to Policy U10, Development in Flood Risk Areas.  


Proposals for new development should not be permitted in flood risk areas or where an increased risk of flooding elsewhere would result unless; it can be demonstrated that alternative less vulnerable areas were unavailable, that no unacceptable risk would result, that no unacceptable risk would result elsewhere, and that appropriate mitigation measures could be secured.

Councillor Scott summed up that people were now aware that the Sands was the wrong place for the new HQ.  The decision for it to be built on The Sands had been made before the seriousness of the flood risk was evident. Policy U10 provided grounds to refuse and Councillor Scott urged Members to refuse the application.  She suggested that a better site be found, that would not need evacuating during floods and be out of commission during a costly clean-up exercise.

Councillor Freeman, local Member, spoke in objection to the proposals.  In 16 years of being a County Councillor he had never seen a planning application achieve so much criticism.  There had been 956 letters of objections from people within Durham City and the wider county and a report which had taken 14 pages to summarise them.  He considered this was enough evidence for Members to conclude that this was a poor proposal.

Councillor Freeman advised there were two, more appropriate alternative sites available at Aykley Heads and Milburngate.  He referred to the presentation given by Councillor Scott as having listed all of the policies to refuse the application.

Councillor Freeman considered the design of the building to be outdated and quoted a former planning Durham City Council Planning Officer’s comments that it was a historical, modernist style from the 1970’s with no obvious relationship to its surroundings.  Councillor Freeman considered the building was little different in style and architecture to the present County Hall and now demolished Milburngate House – which had been described by Durham’s County Planning Officers as ‘tired and dated’.  The impact was wholly negative and no mention was made in the report of any positive impact the building would have.

Councillor Freeman did not consider enough attention had been paid to the multi-storey car park, which had been criticised by Historic England and the Council’s own Design and Conservation team.  This car park is not an add-on to the new Council HQ and its own right would not receive planning permission.

Councillor Freeman referred to the regular flooding which everyone was aware of, and he considered that even with the proposed flood protection features, would be ‘extreme’.  The building would flood, however the planning officer focused on the fact that the Environment Agency did not object so long as the flood protection features were in place and would therefore not increase the flood risk for surrounding buildings and roads.  Councillor Freeman considered that this may not increase the flood risk however it would also not prevent the site from repeated episodes of expected flooding.  He acknowledged additional costs to the Council for clean-up and insurance premiums, and the failure to be able to provide council services.  Even if the building didn’t flood, the surrounding area would and this would cause problems for staff to gain access to the building.  Councillor Freeman referred to the Radisson, which had not yet flooded, but was often inaccessible due to surrounding flood water.

Councillor Freeman referred to the effects on local roads and also the wider city centre highways.  He considered the information which had been submitted in support of the planning application was flawed in relation to traffic flows around the Sands location and the wider city and how it related to the reduced air quality for city centre residents.  The report discounted existing County Hall trips and suggested that there would be an overall reduction of 1800 vehicle trips at a number of junctions around the City, but this was highly questionable as the present County Hall site would retain a B1 office land use into the foreseeable future.  It could not be guaranteed that the forecasted reductions in traffic from the proposed relocation would occur.  Even in the absence of the present County Hall, the Council planned to develop the site in order to attract 6000 jobs and this would significantly increase vehicle trips within the city centre.  It was unacceptable to rule out the impact of the future business park on the basis that no plans had been approved yet for the site. 

Councillor Freeman referred to the local impact on the roads nearest to the site - there would certainly be an increase in traffic and highway safety issues.  The Council considered that only staff with a parking permit for the proposed multi
?storey car park would drive to access the site, which was an unsubstantiated claim and merited further consideration.  There were two car parks within a five?minute walk of the site providing a total of 607 car parking spaces at Walkergate and Sidegate.


No assessment had been made with regards to the occupancy of the car parks and there was nothing to suggest that staff would be deterred from driving to the area in the expectation of parking in one of the spaces.  The proximity and convenience of suggested that it was inevitable that some staff would park in public car parks and queried where tourists and visitors would then park.  Without anywhere to park there would be inevitable economic consequences to the viability of the city centre as they would go elsewhere.

Councillor Freeman continued that the Transport Assessment was flawed and it could not be concluded that the development would not have a severe impact upon the operation of the highway, highway safety and it would have a detrimental impact on the city centre economy rather than the positive one outlined in the report.

Councillor Freeman considered the application to be rejected on highways grounds alone, should Members not accept the policies outlined by Councillor Scott,  as the development was not in accordance with Paragraph 109 of NPPF.


Finally, Councillor Freeman welcomed the referral to the Secretary of State to consider calling in the application as it was a poor proposal, not fit for Durham City and not fit for the Council’s new HQ. He urged Members to refuse the application and advised that it would be highly damaging to the reputation of the Council, should the Secretary of State refuse it.


Councillor Ormerod, local Member addressed the Committee. The Member considered that there were more than sufficient reasons presented to justify refusal of the application but that he wished to discuss The Sands. This was a special location and the last area of the City to be lived in by residents, as opposed to being occupied by students. The site was desirable for families located with a beautiful City on one side and beautiful countryside on the other. If the new HQ was imposed upon these residents The Sands would cease to be desirable and would become another student dominated area. Approving the application would prove an irreversible step to the area becoming a giant university campus and Members would be voting for the death of Durham as a residential City.  There was a strong perception that the Council was not serious about promoting a balanced community and this was reflected in the time allowed for public speakers.1000+ objectors were afforded the same time to address the Committee as 8 supporters. To regain the trust of local residents he urged Members to reject the application.


The Principal Planning Officer responded to the comments raised as follows:


Air quality: Environmental Health and Consumer Protection had concluded that there were no grounds to object following assessment of the implications of the proposals on air quality, which found that the change in levels of pollutants was beneficial at some locations and negligible or neutral at the remainder.


Impact on the World Heritage Site (WHS) views: It was acknowledged that there would be some harm, however this was considered to be less than substantial. This impact centred upon the loss of a view of the WHS found on the opposite banks of the river on Frankland Lane and in the vicinity of Sidegate Car Park.   Whilst this harm resulted in a degree of conflict with Local Plan Policy E3, in accordance with the NPPF this harm was outweighed by the public benefits of the proposals.  


Flood Risk: Councillor Freemen had placed great emphasis on the fact that Officers had focused on the lack of objections by the Environment Agency The Environment Agency were specialists in this field and would have objected if they considered there were grounds.  They had offered no objections subject to mitigation measures being implemented by condition. Councillor Freeman had stated that it was not acceptable to just consider whether flood risk was increased elsewhere on the site, however this was a key part of the NPPF test in respects to development and flood risk.


Appearance of the building: Historic England had raised no objections overall.  In respect of  the design of the HQ building itself, Historic England raised no concerns and considered that the HQ building would represent a positive piece of civic architecture.  Where Historic England had expressed concerns with regards to the impact of the HQ building on the Conservation Area was as a result of its  urbanising impact of the development at an important transition point between the edge of the City and the more countryside feel of the Sands.


The Strategic Traffic Manager responded to the comments raised as follows:


Validity of the Transport Assessment: It was acknowledged that the Assessment looked at current trips on the network, with the removal of trips to and from the existing County Hall. With the exception of Providence Row/Claypath junction all other junctions would experience either a reduction or a limited degree of change. Details of the Assessment were included in the report. Whilst he appreciated the concerns expressed, the Strategic Traffic Manager drew attention to condition 3 which sought to ensure that the predictions in the Transport Assessment were delivered. This condition ensured that the closure of the existing County Hall.  The highway impacts for future development of that site would be subject to further planning applications.


Car Parking Spaces: The suggestion had been made that County Hall staff would use existing car parks. The Strategic Traffic Manager advised that there was no availability at the Sidegate car park, and Walkergate charged £9 per day, which he considered would be above what staff would be prepared to pay. This was borne out by the fact that passport office staff did not use the existing car parks. There would be a net increase of 81 spaces provided and increased vehicular trips would occur as a result, particularly at the Providence Row/Claypath junction, amounting to 44 car trips per day, with 2 extra car trips in peak times. This was within maximum capacity and the Officer was satisfied that the Transport Assessment was valid.


The Chairman invited objectors to address the Committee.


N Solari, representing the views of the market traders advised that if the application was approved, the decision would not only affect her business as an outdoor market trader but the economy of the City as a whole. Two of the 8 letters of support were from traders, which was outweighed by 69 individual traders who had objected to the plans. Workers in Durham did not browse the shops in their lunchtimes; they would usually just buy a sandwich for lunch. The Sands Car Park encouraged shoppers to walk through the market hall. It was one of the most affordable car parks for those business owners who needed to park all day. Many traders had high top vans and trailers, and would not be able to use the proposed multi-storey car park.


Even if Council staff used the park and ride there would still be some disparity between workers and visitors using the car parks.  Ms Solari also questioned why the coach park was to be re-located to Belmont. The development would affect visitors to the City, businesses and residents.


P Conway addressed the Committee on behalf of Durham City Freemen, and stated that their views reflected public opinion through support with apprenticeships and local charity bodies. The proposals contravened saved local plan policies as detailed in their first submission and as suggested in their second submission the Council could pause the process and consider public consultation on the Aykley Heads site. In an impact assessment of 4 alternative sites Aykley Heads had won, out-scoring The Sands on all criteria with the exception of transport and air quality issues associated with the demolition of County Hall where both sites were deemed equal. County Hall must be demolished to create prestigious high quality jobs which was wholly supported by the Freemen. A civic headquarters at Aykley Heads would attract businesses. Financial savings would be realised but there would be an ongoing capital expense at The Sands for flood risk mitigation and sludge removal.


Public consultation had been cursory; 3 days in late July did not satisfy the Nolan Principles. The application bore the name of Kier but the site was chosen and owned by DCC with specification and design shaped by the County Council. It was ironic that the Council did not organise public consultation prior to the Cabinet making its decision. The reason for a new HQ was sound but the location was wrong. It was not too late to rectify this unfortunate position.


D Pocock addressed the Committee on behalf of the City of Durham Trust. In 4 decades of examining planning applications in the City of Durham this was the most incredulous he had seen, and Kier would score poorly if this was an academic planning exercise. He asked why, of all the sites available, a site most susceptible to flooding and the most inaccessible in the City Centre was chosen. There must be a wealth of benefits which the NPPF called very special circumstances which should overcome the disadvantages and make this location superior to all others. None of these special circumstances, of which there were 9, could be applied to this site. One advantage cited was that 1000 employees would be nearer to the City Centre and would increase lunchtime footfall.  The Sands car park yielded a profit of £400k; the proposed multi-storey would run at a loss.


K Banks addressed the Committee on behalf of St Nicholas Community Forum. She stated that many experts had sounded alarm bells about this proposal, including Mr Chaytor a retired highways expert who did not consider that the proposals for the Providence Row/Claypath junction could be made to work. A former Chief Executive of DCC considered that the road access would cause a significant increase in accidents and seriously disrupt access to people’s homes. If this was the case air quality would be affected.


Highways had predicted that employees would use the park and ride so therefore the junction would be fine, however Ms Banks suggested that there was no guarantee this would be the case.  The Confederation for Passenger Transport had said that fewer coaches would come to the City and the WHS co-ordinator had said there would be an impact.  Although Visit County Durham had said this would not be the case, they could be wrong. 


Ms Banks suggested that flood hazard remained extreme and the HQ would differ from other residential properties as residents of County Durham would be meeting costs of managing flood prevention.  The risk of flooding would increase as incidents of extreme weather became more frequent.


Ms Banks referred to the Ministry of Housing and Communities and Local Government Circular issued on 1 January 2019 which stated that buildings erected by public authorities must now have a nearly sub-zero energy rating. Members. must entertain that some of these experts could be right. She urged Members not to take this risk which could result in worsening congestion, a fall in tourist visitors, and the possibility of traders blaming the Council for their businesses failing. This was surely not a legacy the Council would want.


C Stanton, objector, stated that the adverse comments had led him to question why a site in the City Centre which had so much opposition had been chosen, when Aykley Heads had been identified as suitable.  He considered that the application should be deferred until an independent feasibility study was undertaken to establish whether County Hall could be built on Aykley Heads or other sites such as an industrial estate.


B Pickering of Durham City Access for All Group highlighted the difficulties for disabled people as a consequence of the HQ moving to The Sands. Those with wheelchairs and walking problems would suffer as they were dependent on lifts being available and all of the lifts in the City Centre were privately owned and subject to breakdowns. The bus service at Freeman’s Reach was only available between 10am and 4pm Monday to Saturday. There was a step-free access from the market place to the side of  St Nicholas’ Church but this was a very steep gradient and unsuitable for wheelchair users.  The Group believed that the proposals were in breach of the Equalities Act 2010.


The Principal Planning Officer responded to the comments raised.  He stated that a number of points related to the principle of development and why alternative sites had not been chosen.  Members were informed that the application presented for The Sands had to be considered on its own individual merits.  There was a strong presumption in the NPPF for the construction of office accommodation in town centre locations, and a sequential test would have to be applied if the HQ was not located in the City Centre and was sought in a more peripheral location.


The Principal Planning Officer advised that in terms of alternative sites, Environmental Impact Regulations imposed a duty to undertake an assessment of reasonable alternative sites but this did not mean that those options should be pursued even if there was a lesser environmental impact. These were factors for consideration in the planning balance. The alternative sites identified at Milburngate House and Elvet Waterside were not sequentially preferable in flood risk terms.


Planning Officers had considered the socio-economic impact of the proposals and economic benefits had been evidenced in the report. Having a centre of employment within such easy reach of the City Centre would contribute to spend.  It was considered that the potential spend could amount to more than just a sandwich at lunchtime, which had been suggested.  Durham had quite distinctive daytime and night-time economies and an office development such as this would have the potential to help in blurring this through workers going out for meals, drinks and the like after work. The Council was adopting a hub and spoke model with a redistribution of staff to other sites, which would also bring increased spend in other locations and he highlighted Crook, given its town centre location


The Principal Planning officer advised that matters raised concerning the loss of convenient parking and surface level parking were addressed in the report. There would be no loss of spaces; 136 short stay parking spaces were being replaced. In respect to the comments on high sided vehicles, some vans could be accommodated in the multi-storey car park. For larger vehicles the Sands carpark was not the only surface level parking option in the City, other locations were available such as Providence Row and Framwelgate Waterside. Further general parking spaces would also become available again following the completion of works at River Walk.  


With regard to coach parking, the Principal Planning Officer confirmed that comments of the Confederation of Passenger Transport and Durham Pointers had been noted but Visit County Durham had a research arm and discussed proposed arrangements with operators and not objected.  The advice they had received was that it was key to retain a drop off and pick up location in the City Centre and the retention of such a location was intended.  Day visitors by coach would be conveniently dropped off and collected in the City and not have to use the park and ride buses. The Belmont park and ride coach park expansion had planning permission and was proposed irrespective of the HQ development.  This would deliver improved facilities for drives and increased provision for coach parking during significant events, such as Lumiere.


With regards to the concern expressed about the impact on the building and the public purse in extreme flooding events, the Principal Planning Officer focused on some of the important details of the proposals.  The finished floor level of the HQ was 33.2m AOD – a level above a 1 in 100 annual probability of a flood risk event and taking into account the effects of climate change.  The building had therefore been designed so that the working areas of the building would not be flooded even in more extreme events.  Those areas of the building which could flood were void areas which would be used for flood storage.  The flood barrier referenced was not a particularly technological advanced piece of equipment – it was a 1.5m high demountable barrier which if needed, would be erected between the southern elevation of the building and the Freemans Reach development.  The barrier would not be for the purpose of preventing water getting from one side to the other but actually to convey water more quickly away from the site during a very bad flood event so that flood waters subsided.


The concerns expressed by Durham City Access for All were addressed in a dedicated section on equality related matters in the report. The indoor market lift was referenced but firstly this was not the most convenient to use.  There was a lift in Walkergate which was much closer to the development, which grounded on Freemans Place.  In respect of the indoor market lift there was reference to it only operating within market hours, however, these hours  were equivalent to the normal office hours of County Hall. The plans included the re-location of the bus stop for the Cathedral bus service.  The Principal Planning Officer acknowledged that this service was somewhat limited but advised that again, its operating hours were commensurate with the hours that visits would be made to the HQ.


The Strategic Traffic Manager advised that the short stay public parking would be provided for and controlled via condition 25.


L O’Donnell, Director of Transformation and Partnerships, spoke in support of the application and as representative of Durham County Council.  The development addressed the Council’s number one priority of economic regeneration and job creation whilst returning the council to the civic heart of the city and facilitating a sustainable future for the authority’s service provision.  It would enable the Council to build a smaller, flexible, open plan HQ that was cheaper to run and bring council jobs to the city centre and four strategic sites across the county.


The Director of Transformation and Partnerships confirmed that historically the Council had been based at the centre of Durham before relocating to the site at Aykley Heads.  She confirmed that in 2021 they would have reduced its headcount by 3000 and made almost £250m savings due to government austerity.  County Hall was oversized and outdated, and the maintenance backlog amounted to more than £37 million.


The Director of Transformation and Partnerships confirmed that the Council needed to move to modern ways of working and confirmed that benefits of a modern office environment could be demonstrated by staff based in Crook.  The number of council staff based in the town centre had doubled due to the provision of refurbished open plan offices and after 6 months of operation, there had been improved productivity, better staff morale and increased spend in local businesses.   This proposal would bring around 1000 staff to Durham City and was supported from outside bodies such as Durham BID and Business Durham.  It had been proposed that the development would increase private sector confidence in the city and encourage additional spending in the city centre.  In addition 800 staff would be relocated across the other four strategic sites at Crook, Spennymoor, Seaham and Meadowfield.


Whilst the proposed development represented a standalone development project, the Council also had a clear objective to regenerate the existing Aykley Heads site with the intention to deliver more than 6,000 jobs and over £400m of inward investment. This would be subject to a separate planning application and its own technical assessments, however it did involve the HQ being moved from Aykley Heads.


The Director of Transformation and Partnerships advised that objectors had misrepresented the future arrangements for coach parking and public car parking and confirmed that the extension of the park and ride at Belmont would facilitate increased coach travel to the city and all public car parking spaces currently at The Sands car park would be re-provided within the multi-storey car park. In addition, there would be additional public car parking as the Council sought to make all of the proposed parking available to the public outside of normal office hours.

The Director of Transformation and Partnerships advised Members that much of the opposition to the application was based on proposals that were not included in the application.  The proposal was not for County Hall and its car park to move to The Sands – the new HQ would be a third of the size of County Hall with vastly reduced car parking, demonstrating environmental as well as economic leadership.

The proposal included significant economic benefits for the county to come forward as future developments, provided an important economic boost to the city and complemented developments such as Riverwalk and Milburngate.  It enabled the Council to continue to deliver quality services despite continued austerity.


On behalf of the Applicant, Kier Property, Mr Robinson addressed Members in support of the application.  He supported the Officers conclusion as outlined in the report and did not wish to repeat all of the details, however he drew the Committee’s attention to the what he considered as key points.


The proposed headquarters presented an opportunity to address the rationale for the new facility set out by the Director of Transformation and Partnerships.  The proposed scheme offered a state-of-the-art piece of civic architecture which responded sensitively to the unique and world class setting of Durham.  It included improvements to the riverside walkway, a new civic square, minimised car parking due to the central nature of the site, a more energy efficient building that provided a high quality and sustainable environment, and continued community use of meeting spaces with a more flexible design of chamber to ensure greater community use than present.


The proposal would deliver a town centre development in a sustainable, city centre location on previously developed land.  There were no technical objections from statutory or local authority consultees on any specialist matters inclusive of heritage, flood risk, highways and air quality. 


Mr Robinson referred to the Environmental Impact Assessment which had been undertaken alongside the planning application and necessary mitigation had been designed into the proposals or secured via a planning condition to ensure that the proposals were sustainable.


With regards to the design of the building, the proposal had been met with support from Historic England. The design cascaded in height towards the river and the Sands, and only 15% of the footprint of the building would occupy five levels, the remainder being three of four levels in height.   Car parking would be reduced from 1,000 vehicles at the current building to around 200 and limited the number of permit-only parking spaces for council members and officers.  Alternative modes of transport would lead to a reduction in traffic generated by the HQ into the city centre and public parking lost at the Sands would be replaced in the new multi-story car park, resulting in a combined total of just under 340 spaces.  As set out in the transport assessment, there had been no reported concerns regarding highway safety and the proposed negligible increase in vehicle movements to two nearby junctions was within their design capacity.


The design Environment Agency had considered the flood storage mitigation and offered no objections, subject to the inclusion of conditions to secure and maintain the agreed mitigation and flood management measures.


Although the site did not sit within the Air Quality Monitoring Area, reports had been undertaken in respect of the nearby junctions which did, and it had been concluded that the effects would be negligible. A detailed construction management plan would incorporate measures to manage traffic and dust during the initial construction phase.


Mr Robinson referred to the economic benefits identified by Lorraine and commented that at a time when retail and leisure was under notable strain, the proposed development presented a positive opportunity for change in the city centre. The presence of 1,000 employees, 52 weeks a year within minutes of the high street could only provide a timely boost.


Finally, Mr Robinson summarised that the proposal provided the council with a fantastic opportunity to return to the civic heart of the city and facilitate a sustainable future for the authority’s service provision.  It was evident that the proposals were in accordance with national and local planning policy and comprised sustainable development.


D Southwell, supporter, spoke as a resident of Durham, having served as a Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing at the former Durham City Council and having served as a Committee Member for this County Planning Committee.  Having analysed the responses, he confirmed that 10032 people resided in the City of Durham Parish Council area and 67125 resided in the former Durham City Council Area.  In County Durham there were a total of 386, 365 residents, yet only 1005 responses had been received, which equated to 0.26% overall which indicated there was not a lot of support for the objectors.  The majority of residents acknowledged the democratic system at the Council and had faith in the Planning Officers.

Mr Southwell suggested improvements to the highway would be enough to mitigate the increased traffic and referred to the Councils new ways of working which reduced the number of staff working at County Hall, and advised that those who would, could use the Park and Ride and potentially reduce overall traffic and pollution levels.  The scheme would increase footfall and expenditure in the city centre and the design addressed the issue of increased flood risk.  Parking for visitors would be increased and the coach parking facility relocated to Belmont Park and Ride and there was already provision set aside to increase the number of Park and Ride parking spaces by 1900.  In addition, 850 staff would be relocated to the other strategic sites and would boost business in Meadowfield, Spennymoor, Seaham and Crook.

Mr Southwell referred to the site at Aykley Heads which would provide best value as a business park.  The Councils proposal would create the opportunity for more than 6000 high quality jobs and was a project to better the future of young people and generations to come.  The creation of a 56 hectare business quarter in Durham City was, in his opinion, a historical moment for the North East.

Finally Mr Southwell noted that the development could be delayed for two years should it be called in by the Secretary of State and advised that most residents did not support the views of the objectors and did not wish to burden the Council with the additional expense that this would incur.


A Deathe, Durham BID spoke on behalf of a majority of the business of the City, in support this planning application.  He cited the need for the diversification of offer and use of town and city centres due to the changing habits of the consumer.  For the sake of a vibrant and sustainable local economy, the offer needed to broaden and offer more than what had served it for the past 30 to 40 years.  Retail alone could not sustain a vibrant local economy and it was essential for the vitality of the City and the County that the administrative centre for the County was in the County town.


Mr Deathe referred to the considerable benefits and the opportunity for business to gain from the spend of the additional people frequenting the city.  He referred to existing office working in the city and over 500 members of staff within HM Passport Office who were proven to shop and dine regularly in the City because of its location. Those statistics were known to the BID because they delivered the same number of InDurham Loyalty Cards to the Passport Office at the request of the staff themselves.


Finally Mr Deathe noted that this proposal was a once in a generation decision but the benefits would be for many generations. It would provide confidence and security to the city and an additional 1,000 or more individuals who would access the City on a daily basis because of their work location.  Support would inject considerable confidence into the private sector, allowing businesses to flourish.


Councillor A Laing confirmed that she had listened carefully and noted that there were no objections from key statutory consultees.  The Council needed to move forward and utilise modern ways of working and in a fit for purpose building.  The proposal would allow for the relocation of 1000 staff, which would in turn support local businesses, taking into account the difficulty in the retail market nationally – a view shared by Business Durham, Durham BID and Durham Markets Company.  The fears of objectors with regards to the additional traffic and air quality were not justified given the limited additional parking provided.  Councillor Laing referred to the significant opposition in the area and the difficult position that the Council were in but found the application to be positive for County Durham as a whole and therefore moved the recommendation to approve, as per the Officers’ report.


Councillor M Wilkes stated that he was the only Councillor present who was a Member of the former Durham City Council. He would like to think that the role of the Planning Committee was to build in the right locations and that developments were positive and sustainable. He had never seen an application with so many objections to it or such a cross-section of individuals/groups. Durham BID, Business Durham, Durham Market (although most traders seem to object) and a handful of residents were in support. They had said that the proposals would bring jobs to the City. These were not new jobs. There was a café in the building but staff were more likely to bring their lunches with them and with flexi-time staff would want to leave early to avoid traffic.


The argument had been made that the development would be closer to the public. The Aykley Heads site was more accessible with a short, flatter and safer walk to and from the station, and the new HQ was less accessible for disabled people.


The argument that there would be increased footfall was offset by coaches not coming to the City, congestion and the inability of visitors to find parking spaces.


He disagreed that the design was appropriate. He agreed that County Hall needed replacing but this was not an argument for this application. A new County Hall could be built anywhere in County Durham. Positive elements included provision for cycles and showers but negatives included the design and location. The Committee had unanimously voted to defer an application for a hotel on Milburngate; one of the grounds for deferment was the design. The Committee had felt the building was not appropriate and this application had similar traits. The HQ was not in keeping with other landmarks in the City.


He was perplexed that the report said that Historic England had no objections but had considered that the proposals would have a strong impact on the Conservation Area and that the impact of the car park to the significance of the Conservation Area was harmful. In his view these were objections.


The Member continued that there were no redeeming qualities of the application in highway terms. An independent report had been commissioned, and over 1000 objections had been received from all parts of the County - he did not believe they could all be wrong.


Referring to one of the photographs in the presentation by the City of Durham Parish Council which showed the access in flood and asked how staff would be able to leave, and who would erect the barrier.


In terms of environment and sustainability he noted that 50 trees were to be removed and there was no reference in the report to re-planting. No renewable energy was proposed and only 3% of parking spaces would have electric charging points.  The Council had at its meeting on 20 February 2019 declared a ‘climate emergency’. In view of this he asked if it would be right to support this application. 


The multi-storey car park was adjacent to the 6th Form Centre with cars belching out pollution.


In conclusion the Member stated that he would listen to the views of the other Committee Members.


Councillor C Kay stated that the existing County Hall was a 50+ year old building with a huge carbon footprint and DCC was now looking for a building for the next 50 years.


Addressing the representations Councillor Kay observed that the City of Durham Parish Council had no argument against the business case for moving but the location. This was against the views of Durham BID, Visit County Durham and Business Durham who considered it to be an excellent location, and he read out the comments of Durham BID at paragraph 157 in the report.


The representative of Durham Market traders spoke very well but this was contrary to the comments of Durham Markets Company at paragraph 158 in the report in support of the proposals.


With regard to highways and pollution, Councillor Kay stated that people would use transport differently in future, including the use of electric vehicles and buses less use of carbon fuels. Locations for new buildings should be chosen with thought for alternative means of transport.


The proposed location would be closer to the people and this was in accordance with the NPPF.


The Environment Agency had not raised any objections as the experts in flood risk, and their probability a less than 1 in 100 years flood risk was quite a small probability.


Reading from the report the comments of the supporters Councillor Kay stated that this application was about the City of Durham, was the correct application presented at the correct time for the correct location, and seconded the motion by Councillor Laing for approval.


Councillor F Tinsley referred to the application as potentially the biggest and most significant the Committee had ever dealt.  Despite the perception that the Council were overseeing the determination of their own application, it was important to highlight that this application would be referred to the Secretary of State and he would make the final decision on whether or not to call it in. 


Councillor Tinsley confirmed that he did have reservations about the proposals at first, but many of the issues had been addressed during the Committee’s debate.  There were five key issues that he wanted to address, relating to the following impacts; visual, heritage, highways, air quality and flooding.  He referred to the principle of the development and of it being a civic building.  The report confirmed that the site was an unequivocally appropriate location for a civic building and in comparison to the current building which had approximately 1900 employees, the new building would have only 700 desks.


Councillor Tinsley believed that the Local Authority should take its place next to the other government agencies in the area, HM Passport Office and NS&I as they were representatives of the people and should be visible.  Historically Durham City Centre had been the centre of governance in this region and this building secured that for the next 50-100 years.  The site location next to the River Wear was symbolic, as it was the defining geographical feature of the County. 


With regards to the design of the building, Councillor Tinsley referred to the positive comments from Historic England and the Design and Conservation Section and he considered it to be a good design, of high enough quality for the location.  He did not consider there to be any objection on heritage grounds as alluded by Councillor Wilkes and importantly it did not present substantial harm for a designated heritage asset which was the NPPF test.


Moving on to highways, he referred to the additional 81 spaces, which was not significant and he admitted there may be some localised negative impact, but there would be some benefits in that County Hall with close when the new building opens.  The existing public car park would be replaced which is significant for tourism and the amount of visitors to the city centre.  It would mitigate much of the concerns of market traders, which had been put forward by Ms Solari. 


With regards to air quality, Environmental Health and Consumer Protection had analysed the results and modelling had showed some sort of improvement.  Furthermore by 2028 the National Infrastructure Commission had identified that 30% of vehicles sold in the UK would be electric or ultra-low emission vehicles and by 2040 this would increase to 95%.  This confirmed that over the lifespan of the building, air quality impact would not be significant enough to warrant refusal.


Finally with regards to flooding, Councillor Tinsley referred to the picture which had been presented by Councillor Scott during her presentation.  He pointed out that the picture had been taken in 2009 prior to the two new buildings which had both included and incorporated flood reduction measures, including the Archimedes’ screw.


Councillor Tinsley concluded that with a development of this size, it was understandable that there were concerns, but he also had regard to the professional advice from internal consultees and statutory consultees, were not proposing significant objections to the proposal.  As a County Councillor and with experience as a Chartered Town Planner, Councillor Tinsley advised that if the Committee made the wrong decision, the Secretary of State would have 21 days to call it in and he would do so.  He supported the Officers recommendation to approve.


Councillor A Shield stated that it gave him grave concern that there was such a plethora of objections yet no objections from internal or statutory consultees. The only other large application of this size related to an opencast site in 2007 which was recommended for approval and overwhelmingly rejected by the Committee, and then subsequently dismissed at appeal by a Planning Inspector. This demonstrated that when there were no objections from consultees it was not a given that approval would be granted if called in.


Councillor Shield confirmed that there was no doubt that a new HQ was required as County Hall was economically outdated. One of the contentious issues with objectors was the cost of the new HQ and whether it was value for money.  Perhaps the most contentious issue was whether this was the correct location. The report stated that this location was in a flood risk area. The new HQ would not be a consequence of flooding, would not create flooding but would be in the line of flooding. References had been made to a 1 in 100 year probability of a severe flood event, and referred to a serious event in June 2012 which occurred again 2 weeks later. Therefore when it was said that this was a flood risk area and there were consequences that must be mitigated against, he considered that everyone should be aware of those severe issues.


Councillor Shield then referred to paragraphs 8 and 9 of the NPPF. Part 8 stated that developments should be safe and accessible and questioned whether there was mitigation to ensure this. Part 9 related to the promotion of sustainable transport and he noted the comments about the increased use of electric vehicles in future but argued that the development should be considered in terms of its impact now.   The Member concluded that he was not minded to approve the application but would listen to the debate before making a decision.


Councillor I Jewell noted that alternative sites were not a consideration for the Committee and the application was to be considered on its own merits.  He was concerned at the interpretation and questioned the validity of some of the objections.


Councillor G Richardson confirmed that he could not support the application.


Councillor J Clare stated that he strongly believed that if people objected to an application that they not only had the right to do so but also had the right to know why Councillors had reached the decision.


There was a need to strip away the political debate from the planning issues. Reference had been made to a loss of trust and damage to reputation but the Committee was not here to conduct a political debate. The Committee had to look closely at the planning issues only.


It had been said that this was the right move for County Hall but the wrong location and this was a phrase that was often heard at Planning Committee meetings.  The basic rule of the NPPF was whether there were valid planning reasons to refuse an application.


Addressing the issues raised Councillor Clare stated that as there was no loss of or increase in the number of car parking spaces, there would be no difference in the volume of traffic, although there may be an increase in drop-offs outside the new HQ. It had also been said that staff would be arriving in Durham at different times which would spread the impact of traffic across the day. It had been stated that the traffic projections were flawed. If this was the case, this would be corrected by the Secretary of State.


In design terms the impact of the building and car park had been assessed as less than substantial and the Environment Agency had estimated a 1 in 100 year probability of extreme flood events occurring.  Members had heard that such events may be more frequent, however the impacts would be countered through measures referred to by the Planning Officer.


There had been no objections from statutory consultees and Councillor Clare had heard the concerns expressed by objectors regarding parking availability for coaches, but any city with a flourishing visitor centre operated a drop-off and pick-up service.  He understood that people were fearful of an urbanising effect but it had been said that this area had been occupied by buildings for decades.  Two offices had recently been built on the site and it was therefore not inappropriate use of the land. 


Councillor Clare acknowledged that a WHS view would be lost from Freemans Place. 


In terms of accessibility there was no difference getting from the Sands Car Park to the City Centre as there would be from the multi-storey car park to the City Centre. He did consider however that there may be an issue about people getting to the building.  He did not feel that the matter raised by Ms Solari regarding the parking of high sided vehicles had been properly addressed.


If the Council was to continue to deliver services, Councillor Clare advised that it had to move into this modern designed building. He did not believe those people who considered that it would not play a significant part in the City. City centres did much better with offices than those without.


Finally, Councillor Clare advised that to refuse the application Members had to be convinced that the issues raised significantly and demonstrably outweighed the advantages. He did not find that those objections and harm identified outweighed the benefits of the proposals.



The Chairman asked the Solicitor to advise Members with regards to the points raised by Councillor Clare and Mr Pickering with regards to the Equality Act 2010.


The Solicitor advised that there was a statutory duty on public authorities in the exercise of their functions, which included the determination of planning applications, and this was to;

·         have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment or victimisation

·         advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who did not share it

·         foster good relations between those who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who did not share it

The amount of regard to be given, depended on the likely harm.  Caselaw set out that the greater the impact upon those with protected characteristics, the more regard must be had and therefore when negative effects were identified, potential mitigation had to be considered.


The Solicitor confirmed that in this case, and as outlined in the report, Officers’ had acknowledged that there were potential impacts on persons with protected characteristics, who could be more disadvantaged by the application, however they considered that the mitigation measures in place would reduce those impacts.  She advised that granting planning permission would not be a breach of the Equality Act 2010 in this case, considering that there had been due regard and mitigation to the potential impacts, however it was a decision for Members on how much weight was given to that.


Councillor Wilkes referred to the Councils zero carbon date of 2050 and this building would not assist in addressing climate change issues, it would contribute to them.  There were so many overwhelming reasons to reject the application including access, highway safety, design, impact on the natural and historic environment and flooding.  He therefore proposed that the application was rejected on the grounds that it breached the following; 


·         NPPF Parts 2, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16

·         Local Plan Policies T1, E3, E6 and U10.


Councillor Shield confirmed that his concerns remained and therefore supported the amendment to the motion which had been put forward by Councillor Wilkes.


The Chairman confirmed the validity of the amendment and upon a vote being taken the motion was lost and it was;




That the Committee was MINDED TO APPROVE the application subject to the referral of the application to the Secretary of State; and in the event of the application not being called in, the Head of Planning be authorised to determine the application, and, subject to the conditions as outlined in the report.


Supporting documents:


Democratic Services
Durham County Council
County Hall
County Durham
03000 269 714