Agenda item

DM/21/04311/FPA - Blagdon Depot, Frankland Lane, Durham, DH1 5TA

Demolition of 6no. existing industrial units and erection of 4no. commercial units (Use Class B2), with associated parking, landscaping and boundary enclosures.


The Principal Planning Officer, Leigh Dalby (LD) 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 Principal Planning Officer (LD) advised that Members of the Committee had visited the site and were familiar with the location and setting.  The application was for the demolition of 6no. existing industrial units and erection of 4no. commercial units (Use Class B2), with associated parking, landscaping and boundary enclosures and was recommended for approval, subject to the conditions as set out in the report.


The Principal Planning Officer (LD) noted that paragraphs 113-115 within the report set information relating to the lease and commercial issues that were outside of the planning remit.


The Chair thanked the Principal Planning Officer (LD) and asked Parish Councillor Susan Walker to speak on behalf of the City of Durham Parish Council who were objecting to the application.


Parish Councillor S Walker thanked the Chair and Committee and noted that there was much within the application that the Parish Council welcomed such as the size and scale of the development and not impinging upon and actually improving the green belt.  She added that the 21 trees that would be lost would be replaced with those of a higher quality.  She explained that the main concern was that of the impact on the Rocking Horse Studio and referred to the huge number of objections that showed that the facility was a highly regarded community asset. 


Parish Councillor S Walker noted that since 2011 the Studio had been a well-used facility and was the only rehearsal / recording studio in the area.  She noted that Policy C3 of the Durham City Neighbourhood Plan (DCNP) had been created to protect existing valued community facilities in the area.  She added that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) also stated that all decisions should guard against any loss of valued community facilities.  She noted that, as an unallocated site, County Durham Plan (CDP) Policy 6 was the relevant policy to consider and that included criteria that development did not cause loss of community value.  She added that every policy also set out that one must not get rid of any valued community asset that was viable.  Parish Councillor S Walker noted the issues with the building and lease and noted that the Parish Council had assisted Rocking Horse Studio, although had not been able to find anything suitable.  She asked that if the Committee were minded to approve the application that they would add a condition for the developers to allow the owners of the Rocking Horse Studios the appropriate time for relocation.


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 would reiterate the comments of the Parish Council in terms of conditions protecting the Rocking Horse Studio.  He noted that he had a number of concerns relating to highways, explaining that Framwelgate Waterside was extremely narrow, not passable by two vehicles in the opposite directions, and there was only one way in and out of the application site.  He added that the several small businesses currently on site generated very little traffic.  He noted that only one of the new businesses represented a lot of traffic and could potentially create gridlock. 

He reminded Members that the road also served Sidegate, a ‘village within a city’ and noted those residents did not deserve traffic chaos.  He added he could not understand how the report could be so certain that problems would not occur.


The Chair thanked Councillor R Ormerod and asked Richard Combstock of Rocking Horse Studio to speak in objection to the application.


R Combstock thanked the Chair and explained he was the owner of Rocking Horse Studio, a valuable community resource and hub in the heart of the city.  He reiterated the comments from the Parish Council, with DCNP Policy C3 designed to protect such community resources.  He noted there were many objections to the application, with many letters and an over 3,000 signature petition, with hundreds of sympathetic comments.  He explained that he had serious concerns as regards the survival on the Rocking Horse Studio either in the current location or elsewhere.


R Combstock noted that when he took occupation of the current unit on site it had been in a state of disrepair and he had invested over £10,000 in remedial works, including rewiring, and he had reinvested profits into the studio to provide recording studios, rehearsal spaces.  He noted that any move to new premises would result in a loss in terms of materials and therefore there would be a need to reinvest in new premises, noting the bespoke double-walled insulation at the current studio.  He noted that under Section 25 there was no legal obligation regards recompense.  He explained that he had been offered market rate per square foot price on a new unit which was unaffordable for his business, and he had no reassurance as regards the existing building being demolished before he moved to a new space. 


R Combstock noted that the DCNP Policy stated that essential community facilities should be supported and that there needed to be a solution in order that he did not need to cease trading.  He added that if he had to move sooner there would need to be reassurance he could recycle materials that had been used at the current site and for the Landlord or Government funding to cover costs for the resources required.


The Chair thanked R Combstock and asked Josh Woolard, Agent for the Applicant, to speak in support of the application.


J Woollard thanked the Chair and Committee and explained that the application was for redevelopment of the existing depot site, with demolition of the existing units, to be replaced by four new units.  He explained that the site had been family run since 1969 and offered no formal parking on site. 

He added that the current layout was an inefficient use of the site and accordingly the plans were to modernise the site, in line with policy E2 of the DCNP, in order to meet future opportunities.


Councillor C Hood entered the meeting at 11.00am


J Woollard noted improvements in relation to traffic and the green belt, adding the site was within Flood Zone 2 and a number of flood mitigation works were proposed, such as raised electrical points above expected flood levels.  He added the was a SUDS proposed at the north of the site and explained this would help in terms of flood resilience.  In connection with highways issues, he explained that the transport information had been agreed by Officers during pre-application advice, with Condition 7 referring to hours of operation and vehicle movements.  He noted the net gain in biodiversity, greater than that required, and all the other improvements that would meet business needs and lead to more jobs.  He added that the construction phase would result in 35 full-time equivalent positions.


J Woollard reminded Members of Government changes relating to energy efficiency for buildings, and that from April 2023 properties could not be let if they had an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of less than D, and less than B by 2030.  He reiterated that it was a requirement and that it was more sustainable to redevelop the site than to attempt to retrofit to the existing buildings.  He noted that it was not possible to retain the Rocking Horse Studio building on the site, noting the issues including parking.  He explained as regards the proposed planting scheme and that the new buildings would detract visually less than the existing buildings, along with other improvements to access, drainage and storage at the site.  He explained as regards the offer to the owner of Rocking Horse Studio in terms of help and statutory compensation.


The Chair thanked J Woollard and asked the Lawyer (Planning and Highways), Neil Carter to respond to some of the issues raised by the speakers.


The Lawyer (Planning and Highways) thanked the Chair and noted that in respect of the potential loss of the Rocking Horse Studio that policy required that alternative provision is made.  He noted that Members should have regard to policy and key issues, however, should not stray into matters of commercial terms.  He reiterated, policy was to be considered by Members, however, it was not for the Committee to get into details of any commercial negotiations between parties.


The Chair thanked the Lawyer (Planning and Highways) and asked the Committee for their comments and questions.


Councillor J Quinn noted he had attended the site visit and asked as regards he buildings demolition and adherence to the correct procedures in terms of any asbestos disposal, should Members be minded to approve the application. 


The Principal Planning Officer (LD) noted that was under separate legislation, outside of planning, however he could add an informative to the applicant noting that the appropriate procedures and legislation be followed as required.


Councillor J Elmer noted he too had attended the site visit and was aware of the huge amount of people that had signed the petition against the application.  He noted people really wanted to protect this highly valued cultural facility.  He noted that the Authority protected heritage assets and he felt that such cultural assets should be protected too.  He noted there were no other similar facilities in the area and that it would be a very big loss in terms of cultural impact. 


He noted the impact of the proposals on Crook Hall and on the openness of the green belt and asked how the proposals could not impact on the green belt, adding he would have liked to have seen supporting evidence in terms of landscape and visual impact of the proposals.  Councillor J Elmer noted reference to sustainability due to the close proximity to the city centre, however, in addition to parking space he felt provision of EV charging and secure cycle storage would be beneficial.  In respect of the EPC, Councillor J Elmer conceded that most of the units would not have been at a good rating, however, the Rocking Horse Studio with its layers of insulation should be at a higher rating.  He noted his concern that there appeared to be no level of compromise in retaining that building on site and with the justification being to create 10 car parking spaces.  He asked whether Officers could comment if, in highways terms, the application would be acceptable if those 10 spaces were lost.


The Principal DM Engineer explained that parking provision was set out within the Durham County Council Parking Standards and that for this type of development employees and deliveries required those spaces to meet standards.  He added that EV charging, and secure cycle storage were something that Members may wish to add via condition.


Councillor J Elmer asked how Officers came to the conclusion of no net loss in terms of openness of the green belt.  The Principal Planning Officer (LD) explained that that Landscape Team had worked with the applicant and there had been a reorientation of the buildings, relating to the topography of the site, and an enhanced boundary treatment was now proposed together with landscaping works. 

He added that therefore there was no further impact on the openness of the green belt from the outside of the site in the wider area, though there would be some impact internal to the site.  He explained that paragraph 93 of the report referred to the NPPF and infill or redevelopment of such sites where they would not have a greater impact on the green belt.  He added that conditions relating to EV charging and cycle storage were within the gift of the Committee to include. 


In relation to EPC ratings, he noted that information submitted by the applicant had set out how sound insulation was very different from thermal insulation and that they did not operate in the same way.  Councillor J Elmer noted he had concerns that there were no CDP policies on which one could object to the application on cultural impact, adding he felt that it was a great omission from the CDP.  He added that in the lack of any policies within the CDP then it was very important to listen to the Parish Council and to add a condition in relation to the relocation of the Rocking Horse Studio in order to maintain the business.


The Principal Planning Officer (LD) noted that such a condition would likely not be a lawful condition as it would not meet several of the tests required by a condition relating to a planning permission.  The Lawyer (Planning and Highways) explained he agreed with the Principal Planning Officer (LD) that any such condition would be inherently unreasonable and could not be lawfully imposed.


Councillor C Marshall noted he agreed with a lot of the comments from Councillor J Elmer, especially in terms of the unique cultural offer from the Rocking Horse Studio, however, he could not see any material planning reasons for refusal and therefore if in accord with policy an application should be approved.  He also proposed to Members that the Chair, on behalf of the Committee, wrote to the Leader of the Council to ask the Council to meet with tenants in order to help with relocation.  He added he would propose a motion to that effect and would hope that it would be supported unanimously.  He then would, reluctantly, move that the application be approved as per the Officer’s recommendation.


Councillor C Kay noted, as a fellow musician, he had sympathy with the owner of the Rocking Horse Studio, a unique facility within Durham.  He noted that the Lawyer (Planning and Highways) had noted that the Committee could not decide upon commercial grounds, and therefore it appeared that the Officer’s recommendation was in line with policy, with no clear policy reasons to refuse the application.  He added he also felt there would be some value in the Chair writing to the Leader of the Council in this regard, assuming the negotiations between the Rocking Horse Studio and landlord had been exhausted.


Councillor A Bell asked for the comments received from Spatial Policy on the application.  He noted the larger footprint and asked as regards how that did not translate to a wider impact from the surrounding area.  The Principal Planning Officer (LD) noted that the impact on the openness was correct, and that Spatial Policy had been consulted and their comments formed part of the response, noting no objection to the proposals.  Councillor A Bell noted the comments from the Parish Council as regards a condition, and the response to that suggestion from the Lawyer (Planning and Highways). 

He added he was disappointed that the developer had not come forward with a unit for rent and asked if it was a material consideration, and if so whether deferral of the application to allow further discussions would be appropriate.  The Lawyer (Planning and Highways) noted those were commercial considerations in terms of any lease or relocation and not material for the Committee in their considerations.


Councillor K Shaw noted he would second Councillor C Marshall in terms of the Chair writing to the Leader of the Council, noting the Council losing the City of Culture bid previously.  He asked that a vote on the letter be separate to that of the vote on the application.  The Chair noted that he would be more than happy to write to the Leader on this matter. 


The Lawyer (Planning and Highways) noted that, given the Chair’s assurance he would write to the Leader on behalf of the Committee, he felt it would not be appropriate to have a formal vote on that matter, rather to vote on the application, as proposed by Councillor C Marshall, seconded by Councillor K Shaw to approve the application as per the Officer’s recommendation, subject to additional conditions relating to EV charging and cycle storage.


Councillor C Marshall noted the advice from the Lawyer (Planning and Highways) as regards a letter from the Chair to the Leader of the Council.  He added he felt it was the right thing to do morally, and given the assurance of the Chair, and record of this within the minutes, he would therefore withdraw the motion relating to a vote on the letter and move approval of the application, subject to the additional conditions.


The Chair noted he would not wish to lose such a facility from the city, however, he did note the poor state of repair of the existing units and the offer made by the landlord, albeit at a market rate.  He noted that while Members would not wish to lose the Rocking Horse Studio, Councillor C Marshall was right that the Council was a larger player in terms of culture and may be able to offer help and guidance in relation to the facility. 





Upon a vote being taken it was:




That the application be APPROVED, subject to the conditions as set out within the report and additional conditions relating to EV charging and cycle storage.


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