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Student accommodation update for Durham City

Yet another application has arrived for purpose built student accommodation (PBSA) in Durham City. This time it is on the former Nelson’s Yard site at the end of John Street and is for 60 student beds.

Interestingly this site had a previous planning application granted for a similar development around 8(?) years ago, but it was never progressed. I admit that the site is one of the handful of real eyesores in my Neville’s Cross division, so a good quality development would normally be welcomed there, but please, not another PBSA.

Durham City is crying out for non-student accommodation, especially in the city centre. While it may be a difficult site for families with children, it would work really well for young professionals or retirees being close to the city centre and the main bus/train stations. Surely a development of flats for such as these would be a much better idea both for the local community and to help the year-round sustainability of the City centre.

This application brings the total of new PBSA built, in construction or planned to over 4,400 since 2012 (full details can be seen at my related web page).

Evidence is also accumulating that the demand for these beds is not there.

The Village @ The Viaduct is just ending its second year of occupation, has only been half full over both years and is still advertising vacancies for this autumn.

The Chapel Heights web site today (23 August) shows 72 (36.5%) out of 197 rooms still to let for 2016-17. St Giles Studios (on the former DLI pub site) is advertising vacancies as is Elvet Studios on Green Lane, although in both cases actual numbers are not immediately available.

The reason for this looks clear to me, and it is price. Too many of these new rooms are priced at around £10K a year and the bulk of students are not going to pay that when they can find decent HMO accommodation for half that.

Developers keep putting the argument that these PBSA will force lots of HMOs back into family occupation, but they never back this up with real evidence that it has happened anywhere else. Indeed, there is evidence that it has not happened in other cities (Sheffield City Council housing officials said as much at a recent conference on student accommodation issues held in Durham).

Somebody is going to catch a big financial cold as a result of all these PBSA in Durham City and big loser will be the City itself. The planners could easily have seen this coming but the political leadership at County Hall under its perpetual Labour administrations has been totally absent.

More problems on Neville’s Cross Bank

The Neville’s Cross Bank gas repairs are causing problems apart from traffic as I discovered from a resident over the weekend.

She reported that the household/garden waste from Neville’s Cross Villas had not been collected for two weeks due to access problems for the bin wagons. Having spoken to council officers yesterday, I am hoping that this will be finally sorted today with a solution agreed for the many weeks duration of the works.

I do have to ask, however, why it has taken two weeks to sort out this issue. As soon as the bin men found that they could not get the access they required, a message should have gone back up the line to alert managers about the problem so that action could have been planned and the situation explained to residents within a couple of days.

Residents calling County Hall were only being told that there was an issue between the gas company and the bin men, but not how the problem was going to be resolved. As my resident said, they do all pay their council tax and so expect the bins to be collected properly.

Nightmare on Durham Street(s)

Durham residents generally like the summer months with the schools off and the university students away, as traffic congestion eases noticeably. We may even get some sun and warmth. While the weather has been pretty good so far, the congestion issues persist while roads are being dug up across the City. Indeed, things are about to get worse.

The Council has just announced the next stage of the Leazes Bowl roadworks, which will result in diversions from normal routes around Leazes Bowl for 5 weeks from Monday 15 August.

Specifically, there will be no right turn onto Elvet Bridge for traffic going east over Milburngate Bridge. The detour will be to continue up to the Gilesgate roundabout go right round it and come back down the bank to finally turn left towards Elvet. This will inevitably produce more traffic coming down, but it ought to move faster than normal as there will be nothing to give way to at Leazes Bowl.

Similarly, traffic coming from Elvet wishing to go up to Gilesgate will no longer be able to turn right at Leazes Bowl and will be diverted up the slip road to go via Claypath. This route will be much more problematic due to the numbers of buses stopping as the bottom of Claypath that effectively block off one half of the road when they do so.

Of course, that is a time-limited situation and we are promised sweetness and light once all these works are eventually completed in the autumn – sometime.

But then at the weekend I spotted another problem about to increase the enjoyment of drivers in the City. On Finchale Road by the site of the former Fire Station (where many new houses are being built) there was a sign by the road announcing a 6-week period of road works requiring light controlled alternate one-way working. This is again on one of the busiest roads into/out of the City at peak periods. Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! Oh for a quiet life!

 

Neville’s Cross Bank gas main replacement – steer clear of Durham City in August?

Residents of Nevilles’s Cross and motorists using the area will be only too well aware of the saga of the gas main repair/replacement on Neville’s Cross Bank.

There have been a series of gas leaks over several years and eventually it became clear that patch and mend was not going to work, so the gas main that runs under the road up the bank is being completely replaced.

For the first few weeks, 2-way traffic-light controlled working was in place, mainly because local schools were still in session. Now that schools have broken up, however, the Bank has been closed in the westerly direction (out of the city) and will stay that way until September.

Having just come back from a weekend away, we drove north through Neville’s Cross and  discovered that my fears over the consequences had well and truly been proved true.

There is a large amount of traffic that normally comes south along the A167 and turns right at the light to go down Neville’s Cross Bank. It can no longer do so, as neither can traffic coming from the city that used to want to go the same way. So how is the diversion working?

The Council’s nominated diversion is south down the A167 to the Honest Lawyer roundabout and then back up Browney Lane to Meadowfield, a detour of several miles.

Much more direct is the route that turns right at the Duke of Wellington and goes down Lowes Barn Bank. From my inspection this afternoon, this is precisely what many are doing, and because there is no dedicated right turn at that point and it is impossible to queue in a right hand lane for more than about 50 metres because of a traffic island, traffic is being blocked  by those waiting to turn right and traffic is backing up back to the Neville’s Cross lights, and then further back up the A167.

The result of all this is major congestion that is adding to that on the other side of the City where the Leazes Bowl roadworks are also causing delays. So the message seems to be – steer clear of Durham City for the summer if it is a car you are steering.

On top of this, the Residents of Lowes Barn Bank are being subjected to a ridiculous amount of traffic on a road where many houses have no off-street parking. Once this is over, the residents deserve to be given some long-term respite from traffic by putting a weight limit on it to exclude all the heavy lorries that have been plaguing them for years.

 

 

Calling 90 year olds – celebrate the Queen’s Birthday at County Hall

Calling all 90 year-olds — your council needs you!

To celebrate the 90th birthday of our longest reigning monarch, Her Majesty the Queen, the Chairman of Durham County Council is arranging a tea party at County Hall for Durham County’s nonagenarians.

Anyone in the county who celebrates their 90th birthday during 2016 and would like to attend the tea party, are asked to get in touch with the council. 

It will be a special day for some of our senior residents. It will be wonderful for them to meet and reminisce and at the same time celebrate the birthday our Queen.

The tea party will take place on Monday, 13 June between 2.00 pm – 4.00 pm.

So if you, or someone you know, is 90 this year and would like to attend the tea party, contact the Chairman’s PA, Mrs Victoria Richardson on 03000 267 202, email: victoria.richardson2@durham.gov.uk or write to her at: Mrs Victoria Richardson, Chairman’s PA, Durham County Council, County Hall, Durham. DH1 5UL.

As places are limited selection will be on a first come first served basis.

How will the new CountyDurham Plan contribute to the climate change agenda?

January 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded world-wide, and no-one can deny that climate change is upon us, even if there is a vociferous minority that refuse to believe the science that goes alongside it.

But planners and developers do not seem to have got the message that they need to do something to contribute to helping to deal with the problem.

Neville’s Cross currently has two housing projects building very expensive executive homes, one on Mount Oswald near Farewell Hall, and the other on Potters Bank at Chevalier Court (what a pretentious name that is). All the houses there are £600K plus (including two at £1 million in the latter development), but even so, none of the houses has solar panels – not one!

This is madness, all developers know that it is vastly cheaper to install photovoltaic panels as a house is built rather than retro-fitting, but instead of behaving responsibly and doing it as standard, they pocket a few extra thousand pounds on each house by not doing it.

The new County Plan is the opportunity to change all this. The council should insist that all new developments over a certain size (5 houses?) include mandatory micro-generation provision. Some jobsworth may tell me that government rules don’t say that the council can do this, but that does not mean it shouldn’t try.

The record of the council in this area is not great. In the final consultation draft of the last effort at devising a County Plan, the council did include a policy “requiring” developers of executive homes to build them to the highest environmental standards, but that didn’t survive to be part of the version that went to the Inspector.

Guess what happened. The owners of Lambton Estates, who want to build many hundreds of executive homes covering a large area that straddles County Durham and Sunderland, objected and the final policy was changed to only “encourage” such standards.

When the last draft was approved by Council to go to the Inspector, I moved an amendment to reinstate the original policy, but was voted down by the dinosaurs of the Labour group.

So this time round, the Council needs to get some backbone and tell the developers who is in charge. The houses will still get built; the developers will still make a bundle; but at least we will be doing our bit on climate change.

County Plan Withdrawn and 3 Years is Lost

The Council has just announced that the draft County Plan that was rubbished by a government inspector has at last been withdrawn and that the Council is effectively going back to square one.

The Council is expecting to get its new draft plan to its Inspection-in-Public in February/March 2018 more than 3 years after the abortive one held in autumn 2014.

While a lot of technical stuff that was done for it first attempt will still be relevant, we can only hope that the criticisms of the previous inspector on key matters such as population projections and the need for by-passes will be given serious consideration this time around.

At least we start from a better place in relation to policy on student accommodation in the city, but the Council has a lot of work to do to convince residents that it is really willing to listen to them this time. Last time, the impression was given that the the words of developers carried infinitely more weight than those of the electors within the county, which cannot be right. The damning report by the government inspector on the first plan backs up that impression in spades.