Yesterday I attended the Council’s Cabinet meeting which they decided to hold in Murton – with the County Plan on the agenda. Total number of pages for the meeting was 5718! Of which most were the County Plan.
As councillors we only got this last Wednesday, and I’m convinced there isn’t a person on the planet, including the Cabinet members who have read all the 5718 pages of paperwork over the last week.
Having searched through the paperwork I managed to get a question in over the weekend for the Portfolio Holder for Regneration.
My concern was around the route of the Northern Relief Road. This seems to be the biggest issue now about the plan. The impression we get as councillors is that the reduction in the number of houses as art of the scheme from over 6000 to 1700 is now less of a concern than previously, especially given that there will be parkland as part of the proposals – although I still need to get to the bottom of how much parkland and how the infrastructure around the whole area is supposed to cope.
Part of that coping is the Northern Relief Road from Pity Me to near Belmont. Whilst there is a vocal group who are against the proposed road, when you delve deeper it is clear that the route of the road is the biggest issue for most people, whilst a sizeable majority of people feel we should have an improvement in the infrastructure to the North of the CIty.
It is the route of the road which concerns me most. The council has failed in my view too get proper analysis of all the possible options.
I have copied my question to cabinet below:
One of the most important elements of the County Plan is the Northern Relief Road. Both prior to and during the consultation process I have raised concerns about the lack of independent analysis of all the possible alternatives to the route proposed.
This route, either with a new bridge or using the Belmont Viaduct goes through a nature reserve and an area with outstanding wildlife and stunning landscapes which is critical to the residential amenity, health and wellbeing of Durham City.
Opposition from local residents to this route is significant.
Whilst a majority of local residents and indeed myself support in principle improved infrastructure to the north of Durham City, at this stage I cannot accept that all possible routes and options have been satisfactorily analysed.
There is no consideration of a route around the back of Brasside, and in fact all the County Plan contains is a few paragraphs of officer views on each possible option.
In addition, the report states that Highways England will not allow a further A1 junction, yet on questioning officers I find that the Council has never even asked them and has simply relied on a national transport circular from 2013 which states such junctions can only be built unless if they are part of a wider strategic growth agenda – well if the County Durham Plan is not part of a wider grew than agenda I do not know what is.
For such an important proposal as the NRR there should have been a full independent report carried out of all the possible options. This is something I specifically asked officers for. The fact that there has not been a proper report means that at this moment this part of the plan is fundamentally flawed.
I would therefore urge Cabinet to commission a full and proper independent report into all possible routes and options for the Northern Relief Road to avoid this element failing at Public Inquiry and if they are not willing or able to do this, explain why, given the critical importance of this element of the plan, the Council has not and is not willing to do this and accept responsibility if this part of the plan does indeed fail.
The response to my question was pretty straightforward – that I was wrong. The Council believes this is the only viable route and any other route would not be close enough to the City to work. I strongly disagree.
There was no explanation as to why no independent report has been done, no explanation as to the discrepancy with highways England, no understanding of the impact of the route on our area.
What is good is that the council have recognised that having a bridge over the East Coast mainline is going to have a very negative impact and so they have included the option of going under the railway line at Brasside. The reduction in housing numbers as part of the plan is also welcome, however I am still not convinced that the infrastructure proposed will be put in place before housing is built, nor am I convinced that areas such as Durham Moor, Aykley Heads and North End will be able to cope even with the extra roads. Aykley Heads roundabout is already log-jammed at certain times of day.
I will, as no doubts others will, be ploughing through the 5700 pages looking at what else is still a problem. Please do let us know your views and please do attend the consultation events.
One final thing that has annoyed me is that we had to ask again for the necessary events in our area and had we not done everyone would have had to go to the Town Hall.
Thankfully all three of my requests for events have been accepted and the dates are as follows:
4th February – 3.30-6.30 Framwellgate Moor Community Centre
14th February – 4pm-7pm Abbey Leisure Centre
21st February – 4pm-7pm All Saint’s Church, Newton Hall