Demolition of the Mainstreet USA offices, and the erection of a new build 2-4 storey workplace building and associated landscaping.
The Senior Planning Officer, Louisa Ollivere, gave a detailed presentation on the report relating to the abovementioned planning application, a copy of which had been circulated (for copy see file of minutes). Members noted that the written report was supplemented by a visual presentation which included photographs of the site. The application was for the demolition of the Mainstreet USA offices and the erection of a new build 2-4 storey workplace building and associated landscaping and was recommended for approval, subject to conditions.
The Chair thanked the Senior Planning Officer and asked Parish Councillor Susan Walker to speak on behalf of the City of Durham Parish Council in objection to the application.
Parish Councillor S Walker thanked the Chair and Members and explained that the Parish Council strongly objected to the proposals and urged that the Committee refuse the application. She noted under Section 72 of the
Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, there was a legal duty on Planning Authorities to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character of conservation areas, with the application site falling within the Durham City Conservation Area. She added that the Conservation Character Appraisal noted the Sidegate as being “narrow, distinctive lane of an enclosed and intimate character” and that this should inform the type of architecture. She noted the Parish Council felt the proposal would change the character of the area, and that the scale and massing were substantially greater than the building currently occupying the site. Parish Councillor S Walker noted the proposals were for a two to four storey building of approximately 900 square metres, equivalent to 62-70 people. She noted while the design attempted to follow the same building line as Diamond Terrace, it failed to work and was overbearing. She noted Policy 44 of the CDP made it clear development must sustain the importance of designated and non-designated heritage assets, as did Durham City Neighbourhood Plan (DCNP) H2. She added DCNP Policy S1 required that new development harmonise with its context in terms of scale, layout, density, massing, height and colour.
Parish Councillor S Walker noted the Officer’s report falls on extant residential development permission, however, that referred to three two-storey and two three-storey dwellings and did not have a similar impact to that of the proposed office development. She noted CDP Policy 6 referred to unallocated sites, and that development should be approved if the proposals were compatible with existing uses and were in scale and keeping of an area. She noted in that respect the application failed.
She added the proposals were contrary to Policies 6 and 44 of the CDP, DCNP Policies S1 and H2 and Section 15 of the NPPF. She reminded the Committee that those policies had been hard won and should not now be forfeit.
In respect of parking, Parish Councillor S Walker noted that the provision was way below that set out in the Council’s guidance, and therefore in conflict with CDP Policy 21. She noted five spaces for over 60 people was not sufficient and requested that the Committee refused the application.
The Chair thanked Parish Councillor S Walker and asked Councillor R Ormerod, Local Member, to speak in relation to the application.
Councillor R Ormerod noted he was in opposition to development that caused significant harm to the conservation area in the city, and he explained that the area was very special, a ‘village’ within the city. He noted that replacing an unsuitable two-storey building with an equally unsuitable four-storey building was not appropriate. He added that the use of the building was not known, and this added to the impact on residents. He reiterated the comments of the Parish Council in terms of the impact on the character of the area and the limited parking provision of five spaces for 60 occupants, contrary to CDP Policy 21. He added he felt the spirit of the DCNP should be adhered to and that the development proposed was unsuitable in terms of its size and type and was contrary to policy.
The Chair thanked Councillor R Ormerod and asked Mr Robin Humphrey, Chair of the Sidegate Residents’ Association, to speak in objection to the application.
Mr R Humphrey explained that the Sidegate Residents’ Association agreed with the detailed policy objections as set out by the City of Durham Trust and Parish Council. He explained there were three key points, firstly that the scale of the proposal was out of keeping with the location, with the 900 square metre proposals being claimed to be of a similar massing to the previously approved two and three storey properties.
Secondly, Mr R Humphrey reiterated that the provision of five spaces was significantly below the parking standards and was therefore contrary to CDP Policy 21. He noted that had been brushed aside within the report with reference to the central location and proximity to the train station and public transport. He noted staff at the nearby Probation Service building had a car park that was always full. He noted that thirdly there was concern as regards the impact on residents parking, especially those of Diamond Terrace, noting the land was owned by the applicant, though not the access, and parking was controlled by permits.
He noted the preference was to refuse the application, however, if Members were minded to approved the application, then to condition as regards the applicant providing parking for residents.
The Chair thanked Mr R Humphrey and asked Mr J Ashby, representing the City of Durham Trust, to speak in relation to the application.
Mr J Ashby noted the City of Durham Trust supported all the comments made by objectors. He noted that the development was exceedingly large and referred to the impact on the World Heritage Site, parking and access.
He noted that permission for seven town houses for student use was refused in 2016, with Highways refusing the application on the basis that there was insufficient parking and that there would be queuing from Framwellgate Peth.
Mr J Ashby noted the desire for extra jobs and agreed that was very important, however, he noted that as shown by the example of Fram Well House, where jobs had simple moved across the city, he was not sure if jobs created would be new jobs. He concluded by noting the City of Durham had submitted its objections in writing which set out they felt the application should be refused as it was contrary to CDP Policies 21, 29 and 44, and DCNP Policies S1, T1, H1 and H2.
The Chair thanked Mr J Ashby and asked Mr Adam Serfontein, Managing Director of Hanro Group, the applicant.
Mr A Serfontein noted with disappointment he would be the lone voice speaking in support of the application to bring back into use a disused former ‘Main Street USA’ property. He explained he was the Managing Director at the Hanro Group, a north east developer that operated in Durham and built to own long-term. He emphasised the long-term and explained that the proposals represented a significant investment in Durham. He explained that the vitality of Durham was important, as was the sustainable location, to create flexible accommodation to support small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). He explained Hanro Group had worked with Business Durham who supported the model being put forward, helping to support start-ups and aid in the retention of students from the high class University. He noted that the proposals had the backing of the Council’s professional Officers and admitted he was surprised as regards the vociferous opposition to the creation of new jobs in the area. He noted that aspirations of the Hanro Group and Durham were aligned, and the application had been guided by policy, design and the economy. He reiterated that the proposals would bring back into use a derelict site and hoped the Members would approve the application. Mr A Serfontein noted he was as excited as regards this opportunity as he had been in 2004 for a smaller site in Newcastle supporting SMEs and start-ups and hoped to similarly attract and retain businesses in the area.
The Chair thanked Mr A Serfontein and asked Officers to respond to the issues raised.
The Senior Planning Officer noted that the Heritage and Design Section had noted the constraints of the site, with colleagues from Conservation heavily involved due to the issues associated with the World Heritage Site and Conservation Area. She noted that the proposals represented an enhancement to the Conservation Area and added that the scale was similar to that of previous approved proposals. She noted that the City of Durham Neighbourhood Plan suggested that the site was suitable for housing, however, she noted the Inspector had confirmed this was not an allocated housing site, and the consideration was that of 70 jobs balanced against five residential properties.
The Principal Development Management Engineer, David Battensby, noted that the parking standards were guidance, and there was a need to strike a balance. He noted that the area was within the city and in a highly sustainable location and, combined with the excellent park and ride service, it was felt that in this case five spaces was acceptable.
The Chair thanked the Officers and asked the Committee for their comments and questions.
Councillor C Marshall noted he was in favour of such development, noting it was in the wider context of creating better jobs for County Durham and the north east. He noted the proposals were not talk, or a press release, but tangible development that would help encourage other investors to come to Durham. He noted the Council’s successful building, Salvus House, which had a similar offer though was massively oversubscribed. He noted the Government grant for the development of the plot at Aykley Heads and hoped that the proposed development could help bridge the gap between the Aykley Heads development and the redevelopment at Millburngate. He noted the need to retain University students to help boost GVA and noted the excellent transport links, with quick access to the nearby rail station. He noted the concerns raised about parking for the proposed offices and reminded Members that the much larger National Savings and the Passport Office buildings in the city did not have any associated parking provision.
Councillor C Marshall noted that he felt that it would be a disservice if the application was not approved as it was in line with policy and good for County Durham. He proposed that the application be approved as per the recommendations.
Councillor J Elmer noted the comments from the Parish Council, City of Durham Trust and the Residents’ Association and noted the support within the DCNP that the area be used for housing.
He noted that it was a case, once again, that where bodies across the city were in polar opposition with DCC Officers. He noted it did not make sense to him. He added that if Members were to approve the application, he would wish to see a condition as regards a sustainable workplace travel plan to encourage sustainable modes of transport.
The Chair noted he supported the comments from Councillor J Elmer, noted the policy support for housing within the DCNP, however, also noted the support of Business Durham for the application.
Councillor K Shaw noted Members were not considering hypothetical situations for the site, rather considering the application before Committee. He noted he had listened to the reasoning and saw no material planning reasons to refuse, therefore he seconded Councillor C Marshall’s motion for approval.
The Chair noted there had been two proposed additional conditions, one relating to a work place travel plan, the another as regards parking provision. The Senior Planning Officer noted that in terms of a Sustainable Travel Plan, the size of development was below the threshold that would normally be required, however, given the low number of parking spaces being provided, it may be something the applicant may wish to provide, or Members wish to condition.
The Lawyer (Planning and Highways) noted that it would be a struggle to impose a condition as regards the developer providing a solution to residents’ parking, he added it would fail the relevant tests in terms of the imposition of conditions. He asked, if the applicant was minded to agree to a condition relating to a work place travel plan, if the mover and seconder would agree for that to be included.
Mr A Serfontein noted he would be happy to have a condition relating to a work place travel plan, however, any addition condition in association with provision of residents’ parking would be unacceptable. Councillors C Marshall and K Shaw noted they would be happy to include an additional condition relating to a work place travel plan and thanked the applicant for offering to include the condition.
Upon a vote being taken it was:
That the application be APPROVED subject to the conditions as set out within the report, and an additional condition relating to the provision of a work place travel plan.