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Telephone Box going cheap

I have just had an e-mail from BT to the effect that the telephone box in Lowes Barn Bank is to be decommissioned (it was only used for 19 calls – less that one a fortnight – over the pas year).

Apparently BT allows parish councils or registered charities to “take ownership of the kiosk for just £1 thereby protecting the heritage of the community”.

As we don’t have a parish council, is there any charity out there that would like to take up this offer? The only problem is that the deadline for bids is 4 October 2016.

If anyone is interested, they should contact Durham County Council at planning@durham.gov.uk clearly quoting the telephone number of the box ( 0191 386 2521).

Durham – City of Cranes

It looks like Durham will have an extended period as a city of cranes.

The work on The Gates to create a cinema and student accommodation is getting into full swing and we can shortly expect two cranes to dominate that part of the skyline. Actually it will be three initially as the third will be needed to erect the main pair. Then there will be the demolition of Milburngate House with more cranes likely to appear as it is redeveloped.

Incidentally, I am shocked by the news that planning permission has been given for 23-hours-a-day working on The Gates, which lies less than 100 metres from many residential properties. Yet again it seems that developers in Durham City have more rights than residents.

The “Durham bad road dream” goes on

When you thought that the light was appearing at the end of the Durham City tunnel, the tunnel just gets lengthened, especially if you are a bus user.

The gas works on Neville’s Cross Bank are now ended and traffic is flowing freely again, and the tail-backs from the Duke of Wellington lights are a thing of the past. It looks like the works at Leazes Bowl are in their final fortnight so that the new Scoot system will be in place sometime in October with the promise of improved air quality in the City Centre. But…

As these works end, a major refurbishment of North Road is to start that will impact heavily on bus users. The the stretch from Neville Street to Milburngate will be closed for up to 21 weeks from the first weekend in October (although it will be reopened to traffic for December for the Christmas period).

This is going to cause significant problems for the bus network and for taxis. No buses will be able to run the length of North Road, and those that normally do will have to circle through the bus station and come back out onto the viaduct roundabout. I follows also that there will be no bus stops in Milburngate.

I currently have no information on taxis, but with the closure of the North Road taxi rank, it would make sense for there to be a temporary one in Milburngate, where u-turns are relatively easy.

Maybe 2017 will be free of major roadworks, but then it is an election year.

 

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.