Draft Modifications to the submitted County Durham Plan are out for public consultation by DCC until 5.00pm on Monday 21 July. The draft Plan has changed dramatically as a result of the Examination in Public. As you know, the Independent Inspector, William Fieldhouse, declared in February:
“The northern and western relief roads for Durham City proposed in policy 23 are not consistent with national policy or justified. The roads are not necessary to facilitate development proposed in the Plan, or to safeguard or improve highway safety. The benefits that the roads, individually and collectively, would bring in terms of reducing the dominance of car traffic, relieving existing highway network problems, facilitating growth, addressing air quality and improving the historic environment would, overall, be limited. On the other hand, both proposed roads would have adverse impacts including on the setting of designated and non-designated heritage assets, valued landscapes, woodland, recreational routes, biodiversity, living conditions in residential properties, and the openness and purposes of the Green Belt. Overall, the adverse impact of the roads, individually and collectively, would be substantial. No mitigation measures have been identified that would reduce the harm to a level such that it would be outweighed by the limited benefits the roads would bring, nor do I consider that any such measures exist. The two road proposals should therefore be removed from the Plan to make it sound.”
The County Council has accepted that both relief roads cannot proceed, and the Draft Main Modifications now out for public comment fulfil what Mr Fieldhouse required.
This is a brilliant outcome, and a great result for the wonderful campaigns and the many representations that people have made. It should not have been necessary to devote such time and effort to defeating both proposed relief roads, as exactly the same rejection was made by the previous Inspector. DCC criticised him, submitted his interim findings to a Judicial Review, and ended up having to withdraw that earlier version of the Plan.
Inspector Fieldhouse has not, however, told DCC to delete the ’sustainable urban extensions’ at Sniperley and Sherburn Road that propose the building of 1,700 and 420 dwellings respectively. Developers are already saying that Sniperley could be 2,000 new dwellings. Both these huge sites are in the Green Belt around Durham city, so the Plan involves deleting both areas from Green Belt protection.
The National Planning Policy Framework is crystal clear on this: Paragraph 136 states that:
“Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of plans. Strategic policies should establish the need for any changes to Green Belt boundaries, having regard to their intended permanence in the long term, so they can endure beyond the plan period.” (my emboldening)
And Paragraph 139 states:
“When defining Green Belt boundaries, plans should:
(f) define boundaries clearly, using physical features that are readily recognisable and likely to be permanent.” (my emboldening)
What we are offered for the northern boundary of Sniperley Park fails these tests. The proposed, much revised, northern boundary is simply Potterhouse Lane. This is a feeble physical feature, in reality a narrow lane. Of course, if the County Council comes forward with notions that it needs strengthening so as to comply with NPPF’s requirements for Green Belt boundaries, we will be presented with a ‘fait accompli’ resurrection of another section of a Northern Bypass.
But as matters stand today, concern will be expressed on behalf of the Friends of the Durham Green Belt that cast-iron assurances are needed from DCC that further outward extensions of the built-up area northwards towards Kimblesworth and ultimately Chester-le-Street will be rejected notwithstanding any attempts by developers to argue that Potterhouse Lane is not the kind of the permanent boundary that the NPPF requires. There are, similarly, concerns about the lack of physical features for a permanent southern boundary of the Sherburn Road site.
Of course, once the Inspector has read all of the comments on the proposed Main Modifications he might, in his final report, surprise us with reductions or even deletions of one or both of these sites. Frankly, this doesn’t seem likely, but it is worth putting in comments about their boundaries being inadequate to prevent further outward sprawl into the countryside, contrary to National Planning Policy.