County Plan – the basics

Greenbelt – A big success – building on the greenbelt has been dramatically reduced in the new plan. Originally anything up to 6000 houses were planned. This is now 1900.

A huge area stretching almost to Sacriston was originally proposed, this has been cut back significantly.

The greenbelt to the North of the Arnison Centre is removed from development.

The Western bypass

this is set to go ahead in the plan, paid for by a levy on the new housing.

Northern Bypass

This is in the plan with a route between Brasside and Newton Hall passing through Low Newton Junction nature reserve and coming out near Belmont. No funding is identified yet but the Council is actively working on this.

Country Park

Whilst we have reservations about building on the greenbelt, we explained to officers that we needed to ensure that any development was for the benefit of all. We proposed a park running through the Sniperley Housing development and this has been confirmed in the plan. There will be a ark running the whole length of the development area, with Caterhouse Pit nature area protected.

Aykley Heads

Redevelopment of the area once the COuncil has moved to the City Centre is likely to be contentious if traffic and parking issues are not addressed. Proposals for 5000 new jobs are admirable but if the infrastructure is not in place then there will be serious problems.

Infrastructure Changes

We have secured a commitment that the Salutation mini roundabout area will be made far safer for pedestrians, and indeed other roundabouts including PIty ME A167, Blackie Boy, Sniperley and Aykley Heads will all have upgrades as part of the plan.

On all these issues and more need you to comment at the consultation events.

County Plan – Important update – Consultation Dates

Durham County Council’s cabinet passed the County Plan for consultation on Wednesday. The plan looks at what the County needs in terms of housing, employment and infrastructure until 2035.

We have three consultation events arranged in our area – originally one until we complained.

They are on the following dates:

Framwellgate Moor Community Centre – 27th June from 3.30pm to 6.30pm

Abbey Leisure Centre – 6th July from 4pm to 7pm

All Saints Church Newton Hall – 19th July from 4pm to 7pm

There will also be an event at the Town Hall tbc.

 

Grass cutting issues

We have had some complaints about grass cutting in the area. As anyone with a lawn will know, we had some pretty fast growth in recent weeks and this caused problems for the Council, trying to keep on top of it.

That said, there have been areas missed which we have reported to the Council. If there is an area not currently being cut please let us know. We have reported the following areas: Canterbury Road shops, front of Bede Lodge Club, parts of Abbey Road, Rear of Finchale Road Brasside (Issue with parked cars).

We have also mentioned that some of the guys are working a bit too quickly, missing edges etc. Clearly the staff are working hard, but we also need to make sure we keep on top of the standard to.

Please do let us know about any local issues

Disabilities event at New College

People with physical and learning disabilities and their carers can find out about everything from health, employment and training to social activities and holidays at an event this week.

The next Fulfilling Lives event takes place at New College Durham on Thursday, 31 May between 10am and 1pm.

As well as 80 stalls offering information on health, social activities, education, sports, leisure and staying safe, the event will also include six specialised zones with interactive games and a free prize draw for the best poster designed by people who have physical and/or learning disabilities to encourage others to stop smoking. The poster will be circulated across all independent providers in County Durham.

This ninth Fulfilling Lives event is dedicated to achieving a Smoke Free Durham and the Smoke Free County Durham team will be on hand to encourage people to sing their favourite songs at the event in order to pass on public health messages about the risks associated with smoking. The department for Work and Pensions and Job Centre Plus Disability Employment Advisors will be on hand to share the latest information on the support available for those seeking employment and training.

Lee Alexander, Durham County Council’s head of adult care, said: “Fulfilling Lives is a great way for carers and people with physical and/or learning disabilities to come together for one day to seek the latest information, advice and support from across an extensive regional network.

“There are so many organisations doing a tremendous amount of good work in our communities, offering great opportunities for all people, it’s just knowing where these activities are and how to access them.”

A heirarchy of gullies

The Council has a heirarchy of gullies! Yes, there are some which it gets cleared out every three months, some less frequently and some only every 24 months – although I’m not convinced that some even get done that frequently

As your Lib Dem county councillors, whenever we see a blocked gully we report it – not strictly our job, but with the Council cutting this service back so much compared to years ago we see it as a necessity.

This is where your help comes in – please keep your eye out for blocked road gullies and report them to help@durham.gov.uk

This way we can make sure that incidents of flooding are few and far between.

Aykley Heads and County Hall – Council responds to resident questions

Some interesting Council answers to some comments from a resident to the Council can be found below. A small number of residents have been in touch with us commenting as to the reasons for moving County Hall and to the business case. The Council responses are in Bold. Our biggest concerns in the redevelopment of Aykley Heads relate to the protection of green spaces and the adequacy of transport links/congestion issues. We await the County Plan in the coming months to see what else is planned.

Point 1

However successful the County Council may be in attracting “new” jobs into a “strategic investment site” at Aykley Heads, any meaningfully audited, significant economic benefit to County Durham, can only be ascribed to jobs that would demonstrably not have otherwise been created in County Durham. In rationally measuring the cost effectiveness in term of strategic benefit to the County as a whole; it is of critical importance to recognise that if any “new” job created at Aykley Heads would likely in any case, have otherwise come about elsewhere within the County, then this would in reality be of negative benefit in terms of rebalancing the County’s disparate economy.

This economic growth is based on the premise that the County needs more employment opportunities for its residents and when possible, to ensure opportunities to create better jobs are being maximised. Across County Durham significant economic opportunities are being embraced and in order to complement these opportunities and to ensure that the potential of the city is being effectively utilised, opportunities for economic growth in the city also need to be embraced. A key asset that to date has been missing in the make-up of Durham city is a central business quarter, which would present a major opportunity to deliver the sorts of employment that will assist the overall economy of the county.
The point about new jobs being created is recognised and that is the ambition of the Aykley Heads site, to create employment opportunities that help to grow the economy of County Durham, not simply to relocate existing employment. However, if companies are facilitated to move and grow in a way that would not have been possible in their existing location, then this is also success as new employment opportunities are being created.
The focus on growth has been recognised and supported by various independent parties who have considered our proposals as well as organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, the University, businesses such as Atom bank, and individuals such as Sir John Hall. This wide ranging support has been on the basis that sites of the calibre of Aykley Heads are rarely available and there is currently nothing that matches it within the North East region. The potential it offers for the economy of the county and the North East more widely is important. Durham City currently lacks a commercial office quarter to meet future growth opportunities and Aykley Heads is considered an excellent location to create that opportunity. There are currently very few empty office buildings of quality available across the north east or in County Durham.

Point 2

To most people the existing building “sits well” into pleasantly landscaped setting. Taking into account the significance of its situation, it would be more than just an aesthetic loss of greenery, if any new build was to be significantly more obtrusive, either in size or proximity to the highway. Consequently, it is difficult to imagine that any “new build” could offer a better (or even equal) jobs per square metre of floor area, than the existing County Hall.

The Council has set out its intention to develop the site in a sensitive way that will respect the natural environment whilst also creating a business community that people choose to be a part of due to the quality of the development, but also the excellent location adjacent to a main line train station and within close proximity of the city centre and the World Heritage Site.
The proposals aim to retain about the same overall scale/quantum of buildings as County Hall, but with buildings moved closer to the road, and kept to a reduced height overall. County Hall is approximately 390,000 sq ft, accommodating approximately 1,800 FTEs, but it is a very inefficient building. The proposed gateway developments in phase two will be approximately 370,000 sq ft with scale and massing between three to five storeys getting higher towards the rear of the site creating approximately 2,787 jobs due to more efficient use of space. This phase of development which is focused around the existing County Hall site is in addition to phases one and three, thereby creating the overall employment potential of the site.
The Councils design and conservation team have led work to assess the landscape, heritage and ecology benefits of the area and establish the characteristics of the site that need to be preserved and enhanced. It is our intention that the woodland spines are protected, managed and enhanced and that the ecology of the site is protected and available for all to enjoy.

Point 3

Given the age of County Hall and the style of building, no doubt significant monies may now be required in order to bring it up to contemporary standards. But repair and ongoing maintenance are the basic actions of reasonable stewardship, of any responsible landlord. There has only been one “landlord/owner of County Hall since its inception on the drawing board, so presumably any necessary repair and maintenance costs have been professionally budgeted for and the adequate reserves accrued.

Should County Hall be refurbished in its current form a total of £26.3 million would be necessary to maintain the current office configuration. This would simply maintain the outdated cellular office configuration and impede the move to more flexible and agile working arrangements.

Due in part to the quantity of asbestos contained within County Hall, it is costly and difficult to significantly amend the layout of the existing building. A further £49.5 million would be required to move to modern ways of working in County Hall. This figure includes optimism bias, fees and inflation. It is estimated that in total, £75.8 million would be required to modernise County Hall. Having considered these figures, which have been provided by an independent cost consultant, a move to a new facility is more cost effective, whilst also enabling the County Hall site to be redeveloped for employment purposes as set out in the masterplan.

Point 4

Considering my above points, it strikes me as very questionable that demolishing the existing County Hall makes any kind of economic sense, other than to the vested interests of the construction industry together with the associated financial interests, capital lenders and fraternal institutions.

I should be grateful for any information regarding estimated costs.

In addition to the inefficiency of County Hall, the building is also far bigger than required by DCC as its headquarters. Since it was established in 2009, the Council has rationalised its office premises across County Durham, but in order to ensure services are delivered to residents in our rural county, we retain some premises and four strategic sites. Having reduced our workforce by over 2600 posts since 2010 due to the government’s austerity programme, we now require a HQ facility about a third of the size of County Hall.
In terms of costs, the anticipated cost for the demolition of County Hall is estimated at £5m at today’s costs. Although the site will require an initial capital investment from DCC to cover the demolition costs and to undertake development, over time the office developments will provide an on-going revenue income stream, and at some point a valuable asset.
Based on the way business rates are currently calculated, once completed the business park is expected to generate annual business rates of £1.5-1.7million which the Council can retain.

New Pity Me Housing completed – Hurrah!!

The eight new affordable to rent houses in PIty Me were completed today and new tenants will start moving in tomorrow.

This is a fantastic achievement for us as local Lib Dem councillors, and for County Durham Housing Group. After eight long years of challenging the Council for new homes and them refusing we managed to get the new housing group to agree to use brownfield/garage site for family homes.

The houses are all being let to local people after we secured a local lettings policy. It’s really great that people from the area will be able to still live near family and friends in homes that are affordable to rent. Having been in the houses today I am delighted by the quality of them and hope all those who were lucky enough to secure one really enjoy living in their new homes.

Success – Lib Dem pressure secures extra £700,000 for highways repairs

A couple of weeks ago I submitted a motion for full council calling on Cabinet to invest more funding to repair roads, in particular because of the additional damage caused by  this winters poor weather but also because of years of under funding. We also called on government to put in more funding.

The Council, suddenly has found – just a few minutes before my motion was due to be debated, an additional £700,000 – great news – Lib Dem pressure pays off.

However we still feel far more is needed. Not least because we have a massive backlog of rod and path repairs of around £200 million!

We will continue to pile on the pressure which has over the years resulted in significant extra investment.