Go-ahead for 1,500-home Durham garden village despite local policy conflicts

Plans have been approved for a 1,500-home garden village near Seaham in Durham despite the site's current allocation for employment use and recognition from planners that the scheme would result in 'the sterilisation of significant amounts of high-grade mineral resources'.

A visualisation of the finished development (pic: Tolent Ltd)
A visualisation of the finished development (pic: Tolent Ltd)

The outline planning application, submitted by developer Tolent Ltd to Durham County Council, sought permission for the erection of up to 1,500 homes and an "integrated community health and wellbeing village". It also proposes commercial and leisure uses, a business hub, a primary school, public open space, allotments and associated infrastructure, including new pedestrian and vehicular access.

According to a planning report, the application site comprises 77.75 hectares of agricultural land. Some 41 hectares of the development would comprise of managed landscaped green space, the report said.

Officers advised that the majority of the application site is designated as an employment site under a saved local planning policy.

"The development of the site for housing and, therefore, the loss of employment land, would conflict with this policy", the report said.

Planners also advised that the development "would result in the sterilisation of significant amounts of high-grade mineral resources", contrary to policies in the County Durham Minerals and Waste Plan.

It would also have "the potential to have an adverse impact upon the potential for the future expansion" of a nearby quarry, the report added.

The document further advised that the plans would have "a permanent transformational effect upon the landscape as a result of the development, and this would amount to a moderate/major adverse impact at a local level, and a moderate adverse impact at a wider level".

But the report went on the recommend that the plans be approved. Among factors in the development’s favour, the report said that 50 per cent of the homes would be affordable.

It also said that an employment land review had concluded that there "was a significant oversupply of employment land across the county".

The report said this review had informed policies in Durham County Council's emerging local plan "which does not propose to allocate the site for employment purposes".

Planners advised that, while no weight could currently be given to the emerging plan, "it is considered that there are grounds for considering alternative uses on the site on their individual merits".

The report concluded that, "whilst it is accepted that the proposed development would represent a conflict with the development plan, it is considered that the identified benefits of the proposed development are of such a magnitude that they would outweigh this conflict".

Last week, outline plans for a 3,000-home urban extension on greenfield land on the north-western edge of Northampton were approved, despite providing less than a third of the local affordable housing requirement.

In October, outline plans for 1,500 homes on the final major site making up Bicester's garden town proposal were granted planning permission.

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