COUNCIL chiefs are taking a high risk gamble and putting all County Durham’s eggs in one fragile basket by betting its future on Durham City becoming a boom town, critics have claimed.
Durham County Council officials have spent years working on the County Durham Plan, which includes multi-billion pound plans to create 30,000 new jobs and build 30,000 new homes by 2030, and they say it represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reverse the area’s long-standing decline and transform it into an economic powerhouse.
However, with latest round of consultation closing on Monday (November 26), criticism is growing stronger.
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Kirsty Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Durham Green Belt Group (DGBG), said the Plan’s “huge concentration of development on Durham City puts all the county’s eggs in one fragile basket”, risking damaging loss to Durham’s “priceless” green belt and harming the prospects of other towns and villages.
“This is a high risk gamble the county council does not need to take. Durham is at the crossroads and the county council has read the signs wrongly,” she said.
DGBG has filed a 30-page response proposing an alternative model of moderate growth based on regenerating towns and villages, using previously developed land and improving public transport.
Meanwhile, the City of Durham Trust, the North-East’s largest civic amenity society, said the Plan’s focus on Durham would damage the city, irretrievably altering its character.
Chairman Roger Cornwell said: “Borrowing the authority’s slogans, these proposals will not result in an ‘Altogether better’ county but, unfortunately, will be ‘Making a difference where you live’. We say: County Durham deserves better.”
The Trust has filed a 59-page response to the Plan, which, for Durham city, proposes: 5,000 new homes, a world-class business centre at Aykley Heads and two new bypasses.
This summer, environmentalist Jonathon Porritt said the plans were completely manic, way over the top and unbelievably damaging.
Stuart Timmiss, the council’s head of planning and assets, denied it was putting all its eggs in one basket, saying: “I hope anyone reading the plan will see significant proposals that ensure the future prosperity and sustainability of all the settlements across the county with focus on all of our main towns.”
The Plan seeks to turn round the county’s economic fortunes, setting it on a stronger financial path, he said; meeting the needs and aspirations of its communities, while also making environmental improvements from the coast to the dales.
The next draft of the Plan is expected to be published next summer.