Demolition of Existing Bingo Hall and erection of 1no. part 3 storey, 4 Storey Purpose Built Student Accommodation with associated parking and servicing facilities.
The Senior Planning Officer, Leigh Dalby, 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 Senior Planning Officer noted the application had previously been considered by the Committee at its January meeting, however, further representation had been received and it had been advised that the application come back to Committee for a decision. The application was for the demolition of existing bingo hall and erection of 1no. Part 3, Part 4 Storey Purpose Built Student Accommodation with associated parking, and servicing facilities and was recommended for approval, subject to conditions and a Section 106 Legal Agreement.
The Senior Planning Officer noted that since the last meeting of the Committee Durham University had noted no objection in principle, however, raised reservations in relation to the size and quality of the communal facilities, noting they would not consider the proposal to be suitable to form part of the University’s accommodation offer. He added the University had also commented that the 3,000 student relocation stated in the housing need assessment was incorrect and the relocation of students had already occurred. He explained that the applicant had submitted a new needs assessment, based upon the new figures from the University. The Senior Planning Officer noted representations from Mary Foy MP, County Councillor J Elmer, Belmont Parish Council and the City of Durham in objection to the application, summarised within the report.
The Chair thanked the Senior Planning Officer and asked Parish Councillor Patrick Conway, representing Belmont Parish Council, to speak in relation to the application.
Parish Councillor P Conway noted that he would focus on two main areas, the need/data and reference to the building being abandoned and being an eyesore. He noted that the University had stated the applicant was incorrect in terms of the 3,000 relocated students and in terms of need, the application failed Policy 16 in not demonstrating the need for a Purpose Build Student Accommodation (PBSA). He noted paragraph 67 of the report acknowledged some conflict in terms of the University’s figures and those of the applicant and added that stating a PBSA would increase choice for the student population was not logical as there was already many PBSAs and the Article 4 Direction had limited Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). Parish Councillor P Conway noted that a search on the website ‘StuRents’ had shown over 50 rooms available in Durham, with nine of those being at Gilesgate. He added that there were voids within some the PBSAs and other sites also showed vacancies. He noted the University had retained concerns relating to the size and quality of the communal facilities, lack of an external area and its relative remoteness from campus.
Parish Councillor P Conway noted that, in reference to the current building being described as an ‘eyesore’, National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) Paragraph 130 stated that any development should add to the overall quality of an area, be visually attractive and maintain a strong sense of place. He noted that it was clear from local residents that they felt the application did not meet any of those criteria. He noted that the applicant suggested that allowing the PBSA would help save the Hippodrome at Bishop Auckland and added that while he had been Chair of the Durham Area Action Partnership (AAP) they had conducted a review of the housing need in the city and housing was seen an overwhelming priority for residents expressed through surveys and public meetings. Councillor P Conway concluded by noting that the Parish Council felt that the application was contrary to County Durham Plan (CDP) Policies 16, 28 and 44 and Paragraph 130 of the NPPF.
The Chair thanked Parish Councillor P Conway and asked Local Member, Councillor C Fletcher to speak in relation to the application.
Councillor C Fletcher thanked the Committee in reconsidering the application and noted that her comments, as read out at the January meeting, stood and explained that the application was roundly rejected by the residents of the Belmont Division. She explained that it was felt it was development for the sake of development and that it was not needed and was not suitable. She noted that the University had stated that the proposals did not meet their size and quality requirements. She added that three was already enough accommodation and there was already a large PBSA in the area.
Councillor C Fletcher noted that the Majestic Bingo was still open and operating and was a valued as a community site. She added it was felt that the proposed design failed to meet CDP Policies 16, 28 and 44. She noted she supported the statement from Mary Foy MP. She explained that it did not follow that offering PBSA accommodation in the area would leave houses for local residents, adding that she would prefer that the Majestic was not demolished, and that more suitable development would be looked at in the future.
The Chair thanked Councillor C Fletcher and asked the Committee Services Officer to read out a statement on behalf Local Members, Councillors E Mavin and L Mavin who were unable to attend the Committee.
“Following the decision by Durham County Council to scrutinise this application again we continue to oppose this scheme. Our previous objection outlined the grounds to which we objected, but in the light of new documentation (Demand for purpose built student accommodation in Durham) we continue to oppose this application, particularly as it continues to contravene Policy 16 of the County Durham Plan.
We also refer to evidence submitted by the University dated 6th January 2022 which had not been drawn to the Central and East Planning Committee’s attention. The new documentation – Demand for purpose built student accommodation in Durham – gives a forecast of 18,288 HMO and PBSA bed spaces in the city if all developers currently approved are delivered. It then identifies a shortfall of approximately 3,000 bed spaces. However, University data indicates there are now 22,200 students at Durham University, a figure which exceeds the planned numbers for 2026 / 27, therefore there is sufficient accommodation for this number without additional development. The letter from the University dated 6th January also states that the University does retain concern regarding the size and quality of communal facilities for student residents, the lack of an external area and its relative remoteness from campus, as such we don’t consider that this PBSA would be suitable to form part of the University’s accommodation offer to our students. Given this clear view from the University we consider the application does not meet the requirements of Policy 16”.
The Chair thanked the Committee Services Officer and asked Mr John Ashby, representing the City of Durham Trust, to speak in objection to the application.
Mr J Ashby explained that it had been mentioned at the January meeting that new PBSAs would release housing from HMOs, however, 12 new PBSAs had been built and there were even more HMOs. He noted the University had stated that as it had reached its target in terms of student numbers, would revert to 21,500, and there was no case for a new PBSA.
The Chair thanked Mr J Ashby and asked Mr Richard Hornby, representing the Gilesgate Residents’ Association (GRA), to speak in relation to the application.
Mr R Hornby explained that in reference to need there was around 250 vacant rooms at this point in Durham across the Colleges, PBSAs and HMOs. He explained that there already 1,132 PBSA spaces approved not on the market, 20 HMOs of 3-5 bedrooms with permission and allocation within the CDP of around 3,200 rooms without permission. He noted around 4,662 voids within the city, and he noted the University would grow over the next few years, however, they were already above their masterplan target. He noted that an argument being made in support of the application was about choice of accommodation and suggested there was already 4,662 spaces to chose from, adding there would be spaces each year.
Mr R Hornby explained that the current use was for a thriving bingo hall, regularly used and employing staff in the local community, one of the poorest areas of the city.
He noted that if the application was approved the site would be sold, the bingo hall would close with jobs being lost, especially hard in current times. He reiterated the comments made by Parish Councillor P Conway in respect of the University noting that the proposals were not suitable in size or quality and added that the Durham County Council (DCC) Design and Conservation stated that the proposals were not suitable for a range of reasons.
Mr R Hornby concluded by noting the mix up in data and reiterating that the proposals were contrary to CDP Policy 16 and urged the Committee to carefully consider the application.
The Chair thanked Mr R Hornby and asked Mr Daniel Puttick, Agent for the applicant, to speak in support of the application.
Mr D Puttick thanked the Chair and Committee and noted he would not repeat the comments made at the January meeting by his colleague, Mark Ketley, rather he would reaffirm four key points: need; scale and impact; regeneration; and the comments relating to alternative use for the site.
Mr D Puttick explained that Durham University needed over 3,000 PBSA bed spaces by 2027, as confirmed by four independent reports for the applicant. He added that the more recent information had been taken into account and there was still a shortfall in places. He noted, in reference to CDP allocations, there was no certainty that those allocations would be delivered. He explained that the scheme would deliver four percent, 128 bed spaces, a meaningful amount.
In relation to scale, Mr D Puttick noted that the original proposals were for 180 bed spaces over five storeys however, following work with Council Officers, the application was changed to a part three, part four storey design with 128 bed spaces. He added that the regeneration benefits of the redevelopment of the site should be afforded significant weight. He noted that objectors had stated that the bingo hall was well used, however, pre-pandemic there were poor attendances and now the business was unviable as a going concern. He reiterated that the application represented an opportunity to develop the site, adding that the reference by objectors to affordable housing was not a material planning concern. He noted that options as regards affordable housing had been looked at with Karbon Homes and Believe Housing noting the site was not viable for affordable housing.
Mr D Puttick concluded by reiterating that the application was compliant with relevant policies and noted that the Committee had already once resolved to approve the application and he asked Members for their support once again in approving the proposals.
The Chair thanked Mr D Puttick and asked the Senior Planning Officer if he had any points he wished to raise in response to the speakers.
The Senior Planning Officer noted that Parish Councillor P Conway had stated that the University had said there was no need for development, however, the University had not made such an assertion, referring to no objection in principle in their letter date 6 January 2022. In reference to the comments from the University noting that the accommodation was not suitable, they had stated it was not suitable for them as a commercial landlord, and the University would not be used as a benchmark. In reference to family houses being freed up and made available as a consequence of the development of PBSAs, he noted that was not an assertion put forward by the applicant or Officers. The Senior Planning Officer noted that in relation to the figures and data, paragraph 67 of the report did note some conflict with the figures, however, paragraph 72 of the report noted while the proposal was unlikely to meet a quantitative demand, it would comply with policy in offering a qualitative choice.
The Chair thanked the Senior Planning Officer and asked the Committee for their questions and comments.
Councillor C Marshall asked for clarification on why the application was back before Members. The Area Team Leader (Central and East), Sarah Eldridge explained that representations from the University had been received on time and unfortunately had not made their way to Committee. She noted that the representations had reflected the information that Mr J Ashby had given to the Committee at the January meeting as well as containing more information in terms of the University’s concerns and, as material considerations, it was felt best the application come back before Committee.
Councillor C Marshall noted he was not going to have the same debate as at the last Committee as the details of the application had not changed. He asked if the information in terms of the numbers, and growth regarding the University were correct. The Senior Planning Officer noted the figures provided were correct. Councillor C Marshall referred to potential for increase in student numbers in the city with a new business school and reiterated his previous comments that there was a need for a proper strategy in respect of how students lived, integrated and contributed in a positive manner. He noted that it was important to manage student accommodation and choice and if PBSAs were stopped then there needed to be an alternative to provide quality, affordable accommodation. He noted that, based on the information provided, nothing had changed, and on the balance of probabilities there would be additional students in the city centre and the direction of travel suggested that there was a need for more accommodation in the right place.
He noted he felt the application did comply with policy and therefore he would propose that the application be approved as per the recommendation within the report.
Councillor C Hood thanked the Chair and all those that had made representations on the application. He noted concern relating to the comments relating to the commercial competition, adding the University wished to thrive and have the best deal for students. He noted he had listened to the comments from the three Local Members, Parish Council, Residents’ Association, and the submissions from others and noted a ratio of 22 to one against the application. He noted that while the application was not in his Electoral Division, he felt Members were elected to listen and he felt, from the representations from the three Local Members, that those Local Members had listened to their residents. Councillor C Hood noted that he could not support the application and asked that all Members reject the proposals.
Councillor K Shaw noted his concern that there was no material planning reasons to move away from the previous decision and therefore he would second Councillor C Marshall’s motion for approval. Councillor C Kay noted no material considerations to reject the application, adding he felt it was an open and shut case and supported the recommendation for approval.
The Chair noted he felt there were grounds for refusal, and that the figures from the University showed there was no demand. He added the University had also noted in their representations the accommodation proposed would not be good enough for their estate and asked why it would be good enough for others. He noted he felt he would vote against the proposals and noted that the figures presented by the City of Durham Trust at the January meeting had now been confirmed by the University, with no unmet demand. He noted that Government was looking again at university targets and were perhaps moving away from a free market system. He added he supported Councillor C Hood in refusing the application.
Councillor C Marshall noted the previous comments made by the Chair at a previous meeting in relation to student accommodation and asked the Solicitor as regards the position of the Chair in respect of his ability to take part. He also asked as regards no material considerations having been put forward for refusal. The Lawyer (Planning and Highways) noted that the comments made by the Chair at the last Committee had related to an HMO at Framwellgate Moor and the University’s expansion programme. He noted the Chair had been given advice and it was for the Chair to decide whether to take part in the decision making for the application.
In respect of material grounds for refusal, the Lawyer (Planning and Highways), noted there was a motion for approval that had been seconded and he would probe as regards reasons for refusal, as necessary, after that vote.
Councillor C Marshall asked if the Chair would wish to comment on how he came to his decision. The Chair noted the application was not being made by Durham University and the numbers presented were fact, there being no demand with the University hitting its 2027 target five years ahead of schedule. He noted he did not feel anything he had said previously prevented him from taking a view on the application, similar to Councillor C Marshall in terms of his previous role as a Cabinet Member.
Councillor C Kay noted that it was not possible to have it both ways and noted the motion for approval had been made and seconded.
Councillor D Oliver noted he had not been at the January meeting of the Committee and noted the difference of opinion in relation to the growth of the University. He noted that if the application was to be rejected then there needed to be a clearer view on the reasons and material grounds.
Upon a vote being taken it was:
That the application be APPROVED subject to the conditions and Section 106 Legal Agreement as set out within the report.
Councillor J Elmer entered the meeting at 10.45am