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Agenda item

DM/18/03002/FPA - Former East Durham and Houghall Community College, Burnhope Way, Peterlee

Redevelopment of former college site to provide a mixed use scheme with three retail units (use class A1) and a restaurant with drive-through (use class A3/A5) and coffee house with drive-through (use class A3) and associated infrastructure.


The Committee considered a report of the Senior Planning Officer regarding an application for redevelopment of the former college site to provide a mixed use scheme with three retail units and a restaurant with drive-through and coffee house with drive-through and associated infrastructure (for copy see file of Minutes).


C Harding, Senior 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 Senior Planning Officer provided an update to the Committee, advising that since the publication of the committee report, that a new version of the NPPF had been issued and that paragraph 18 of the report should be updated to reflect this. Members were advised that the latest revisions to the NPPF would not materially affect the consideration of this particular application.


Members were also advised that the subway improvement works referred to at paragraph 205 of the report should be updated to include proposed subway lighting improvements, that paragraph 224 should be updated to refer to the “Habitats and Species Regulations 2017”, and that the biodiversity contribution referred to at paragraph 225, and within the recommendation section of the report should be amended to read £6,683.


With regards to the proposed conditions, Members were advised that Condition 11 should be updated to reflect the updated subway improvement plan, and that following discussions with the applicant, that Condition 3 be updated to read ‘Notwithstanding the details submitted with the application, the proposed customer parking shall not be subject to charging regime and will be unrestricted for a period of 3 hours.’ The Senior Planning Officer advised members that he considered the proposed introduction of a 3 hour time period would help maintain a turnover of town centre parking spaces, whilst allowing sufficient time for linked trips to take place.


Since the report had been published there had been additional representations received; a letter of support from Graeme Morris MP and an additional representation from LKL Flooring in objection to the proposal


Councillor S McDonnell addressed the Committee as Local Member and as a representative of Peterlee Town Council, in support of the application. 


She referred to a consultation exercise which had been undertaken by the Council to establish the viability of opening an additional supermarket for Peterlee.  This had taken place a decade ago on the back of a resident’s survey and the consultation concluded that due to the catchment area for the town, Peterlee could support an additional two Supermarkets.


Councillor McDonnell confirmed that following on from this, Tesco submitted plans for a large store on the site of the old East Durham College which, after being vacated by the college in 2008, had started to show signs of dereliction and attract vandals and arsonists, and Morrisons submitted plans for the old North Blunts School site.  During this process, the owners of the town centre also submitted plans for a supermarket in the town centre.


In June 2011 the plans for both Tesco and the town centre development were approved in addition to an extension to the Dalton park development in Murton, but the Morrisons submission for North Blunts were refused.


The owners of the town centre launched an appeal against the decision on the Tesco and Dalton Park sites and then went on to tie them up in long legal battle which ended up being dismissed by the High Courts in February 2013.


Tesco had already spent £11million pounds in buying the site, which confirmed their commitment to the build, however they backed out in 2015 and perhaps this was due to the delay caused by the legal action. 


Peterlee had been left with no supermarket and lost out on the 400 jobs it would have created.  The site was left to become an even bigger eyesore and continued to attract anti-social behaviour.  A year after Morrisons had their plans for Peterlee rejected, Morrisons built a supermarket at Dalton Park, only to later back out and the potential of 700 much needed jobs in East Durham had been lost.  In addition, the town centre owners did not start the build for their own supermarket. 


Councillor McDonnell confirmed that the only significant development in Peterlee Town Centre had been Costa Coffee, and it had been secured by substantial investment by Asda.


Councillor McDonnell was not surprised that a campaign against the application had been started by the town centre, who had stated that should the retail park be approved, it would result in empty shops, less choice, and fewer jobs.  In response to these submissions, Councillor McDonnell advised that there were already empty shops, many of the shops which vacated the town centre were charity shops and should the development not be approved, there had been confirmation that two of the larger stores approaching the end of their lease would not be renewing. 


Many people were in favour of the development and the location was technically in the town centre and would bring more visitors to Peterlee Town Centre. Councillor McDonnell stated that she believed this council will do the right thing for the people of the town and approve this much needed development.


Finally, Councillor McDonnell addressed the town centre owners and asked that should the application be approved, rather than launch an appeal, invest the time and money into the town centre and make it a more attractive place for visitors and retailers.  If improvements were not made, more retailers and customers would be lost.


H Arnell spoke on behalf of Castle Dene Shopping Centre, in objection to the proposed development.  Despite some of the expressed views, the owners were committed to the town centre and had worked hard, despite the challenges in retail nationally, to improve facilities.  They wanted to work with the Council to improve the town centre’s offer, which would not happen should the application be approved.  This proposal would lead to the irreversible decline or the Council could commit to working with the town centre to make it a viable destination.  She did not intend to outline all of the submissions as they had been put forward by letter, however she wanted to outline that the proposal would have a devastating impact and would result in store closures and job losses which would not be offset by the proposal. 


Ms Arnell confirmed that this proposal was not the same as the Tesco proposal as this amounted to poaching or replicating existing provision whereas Tesco would have provided something different.  B&M Bargains and Costa would cease trading in the town centre, should the application be approved.  She therefore requested that a condition be imposed if the Committee were minded to approve, to place restrictions on the developers to prevent poaching for a five year period.


S Chaney, spoke on behalf of Protect Peterlee Town Centre, which was made up of Tenants of Peterlee town centre and residents, in objection to the proposal.  She had been in post as Manager of Castle Dene Shopping Centre for one year and as part of her role she had been working with the group to  make improvements to the town centre.  As a result, free parking across Castle Dene had been introduced which in the last week alone had increased footfall by 12%.  During the past week over £63k had been spent on tidying up a former bank and turning it into a single floor white box.  Plans for the following week included improvements to signage.  This was a rolling programme and came directly from listening to the needs of centre users and tenants.


From her own experience in Hartlepool, Ms Chaney advised that a new out of town retail park led to a drop of takings of over £10k per week from one retailer.  The damaging effects were very clear and would be almost impossible to recover.  In Bishop Auckland it had been plain to see a decline and closure of shops, only through Council investment of taxpayer’s money were improvements made.  Peterlee town centre had a great mix of services, public transport, shops and cafes and she asked Members not to vote to condemn it and asked that they voted to protect the town centre and its future.


Sharon Boxall was a local resident and in objection to the proposed development.  Essington Way was already a congested road and increased traffic would cause more problems.  She referred to the issue of noise from vehicles on early mornings, late evenings and weekends.  She had concerns about deliveries which would be entering a residential area.  There had been 6 accidents in the 2.5 years she had lived in her property and she wondered what safety measures and disability access to the retail park.  Anti-social behaviour and litter was a concern, which had already been witnessed from McDonalds.


Alison Clack spoke on behalf of the Applicant and in support of the development and as a Chartered Town Planner.  She stated that this was an exciting development, which had been clearly set out in the Officer’s report.  She highlighted an extensive consultation with a high level of support.


The retail park was to provide high quality, purpose built premises to enhance the shopping experience.  Of the demonstrable benefits she wanted to reiterate upgrades to the subways and the provision of a surface crossing across Essington Way.  The application would regenerate a derelict site which had been vacant for many years and had been also subject to arson and vandalism and provide shoppers with free parking.  It would also lead to the creation of 120 new jobs as well as the retention of those in the town centre.


The proposal would secure the retention of Lidl and Home Bargains, shops which would otherwise be closing.  It would encourage shoppers to stay in Peterlee and encourage shoppers to visit the town centre and work could be commenced immediately.  A site of this scale was sure to encourage further interest from other retailers.   She stated that the Applicant was acutely aware of the concerns raised with regards to the effects of the proposals on the town centre and an independent retail consultant had been instructed by the Council to audit the submission to ensure there would be no significant harm to the viability of the town centre.  She referred to the report and confirmed that the studies were appropriate.  It had acknowledged that free parking, as well as the layout and location would encourage linked trips.


There had been overwhelming local support for the investment inpre-submission consultation which allowed comments to be submitted online.  Only 8 respondents had confirmed that they had disliked the proposals.  Conditions had been included to offer protection from noise, highway safety and free parking was included, but would be limited to 3 hours allowing visitors plenty of time whilst also ensuring the turnover of visitors and prevent long stay parking by people who were not shopping.


In response to comments from objectors, she suggested the development would act as a catalyst to increase footfall and referred to the new pedestrian crossing, of which a condition was proposed with regards to noise nuisance to ensure that it was minimised.


In summary it benefitted Peterlee, it met the required tests and was supported by Officers.  She therefore asked Members to approve the application.


Councillor Laing confirmed that the town centre was in her ward and she had long campaigned for improvements to the town centre and development of this brownfield site.  She echoed comments from Councillor McDonnell and confirmed that she had visited the site the previous day, she had considered the report and listened to the speakers, and she acknowledged the independent audit which had been commissioned by the Council and noted that the impacts would not be significantly adverse.


This development would bring significant benefits to the town centre and redevelop the old college site, increased retail, job creation and the provision of free parking, which would encourage people to visit the town centre.  The concerns of residents with regards to highways issues and the impact on amenity had been addressed with conditions and she considered the benefits to outweigh any potential negative impact.


Councillor Laing confirmed that she had listened to concerns and promises of improvement from the owners of Peterlee town centre and had been left disappointed that many of the promises over the years had not delivered.  She moved the recommendation to approve as per the Officers’ report.


Councillor Jewell confirmed that this application was positive and that the objections had been mitigated.  He suggested that in the County as a whole, town centres were suffering due to a lack of investment and this development would attract further investment.  He seconded the recommendation to approve.


Councillor H Smith responded to the suggestion that Bishop Auckland Town Centre was in decline and confirmed that this did not share similarity as the retail park had been built over 1.5. miles from the town centre.  This site was right next door to the town centre, with only a road in between and there was no reason to reject this application.


Councillor Shield noted there had been no statutory consultee objections and confirmed that town centres could not retain a retail-only concept and had to include a mix of retail, leisure and residential units.  Large retail units out of town in places such as Consett and Bishop Auckland had been developed and in Consett there had been a detrimental effect on footfall in town centres but nevertheless he had no problem in supporting the application.  He did share the concern with regards to litter and noted the potential impact on the Council in employing additional litter pickers.  He referred to half a tonne of waste picked up off Medomsley Bank within six months and was solely as a consequence of this type of food outlet.


Councilllor Tinsley commented on similar issues in town centres throughout the County, however this was not a site located 1.5 miles away, it was right on the edge of the town centre.  It was disappointing that Peterlee had suffered blows to economic development over the last decade with regards to the legal battle, but it was not surprising.  Councillor Tinsley commented on the alleged poaching which he was not comfortable with, however retailers and shoppers preferred units of the modern format and would go elsewhere to find it.  This was possibly the final chance for Peterlee and with the established connectivity it had the potential to move the town forward.


Councillor Wilkes had visited the site and it was not out of town, but on the other side of the road.  He noted the empty shops and urged the developer to act.  Following presentations from Members and locals, there had not been sufficient improvements to the town centre by the owners and if they were not prepared to invest, they could not expect their assets to improve.  Calculations showed an impact on the town centre of about £6m and he considered the possibility of conditioning the applicant to give something towards the regeneration of the town centre, however given that much of the area was owned by a private company, he was not sure it could work.


He concluded that the Council needed to do more to improve the town centre, but also private company investors needed to do more.   Councillor Wilkes could not find any reason to reject an application that would bring jobs to the area and link up both parts of the town.


Councillor M Davinson asked for more information on the comments from the Town Council with regards to access and egress, even though the speaker had not attended.  The Senior Planning Officer read out the statement submitted by the Town Council.  It included comments with regards to the omission of motorcycle parking provision and HGV noise reduction measures in relation to units A&B, and finally reference to whether there would only be one entrance/exit, highlighting issues in relation to ASDA.


Councillor Kay confirmed that as Local Member for Coundon and former Mayor of Bishop Auckland, he was someone who pleaded against the extension of Tindle Crescent retail park in 2012.  Bishop Auckland had been mentioned twice and he confirmed that retail voids were down 10% in comparison to what they were five years ago.  He reassured the owners of the town centre that modifying their model would result in improvements.


Councillor Clare confirmed that the issue on viability in Newton Aycliffe had been similar, buildings were inappropriate for retail developments, too small and could not be adapted to fit modern developments.  Referring to the plans, he suggested that it was clear these were units which could not be adapted for existing town centre premises.


The town centre manager had addressed the Committee with regards to all of the vitality going on in the town centre, but as Councillor Shield alluded to, it was not retail outlets but associated facilities such as cafes.   This application was for a facility for companies and would be an absolute benefit to residents, Councillor Clare found it difficult to find any reason not to support it.




That the application be APPROVED subject to the conditions outlined in the report.


Supporting documents:


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