DURHAM is now inundated with student accommodation, councillors heard today (Tuesday, July 8), as plans for another 198 beds got the go-ahead.

Despite several members of Durham County Council’s central and east area planning committee raising concerns over the city’s “studentification”, Ashcourt Properties’ £4.5m scheme to build five student blocks on a former scrap yard near Magdalene Heights, off the A690 Gilesgate roundabout, were approved by six votes to five, with chairman Paul Taylor casting the crucial vote.

Councillor Bill Moir said: “At the moment it seems if you leave a gate open in Durham City, a developer will suggest student accommodation.

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“We are inundated with student accommodation.”

Cllr David Freeman said the proliferation of student accommodation was a serious issue for Durham and the latest scheme was not needed.

By some calculations, 3,417 new student beds are either in the pipeline or have been granted planning permission since 2012.

Cllr Freeman urged council planners to hold talks with Durham University about its expected future student numbers, said 400 student beds were still unlet for the next academic year and claimed Ashcourt’s scheme, known as Chapel Heights, would make Claypath and Lower Gilesgate 85 per cent student-occupied.

However, planning official Chris Baxter said Ashcourt did not need to prove any need for the scheme and students made up just 13 per cent of the population of the postcode area.

Peter Colebrook, for Ashcourt, said the firm had a reputation for high-quality accommodation and would build and manage the development, adding it had been “in it for the long game for 20 years”.

“We believe we’re providing well-designed purpose-built student accommodation,” he said.

Mr Colebrook said the scheme would free up city centre houses for families, reuse a brownfield site and address the challenges of the landscape.

As part of the plans, Ashcourt will open the nearby 13th century ruined hospital chapel of St Mary Magdalene, a scheduled ancient monument, to the public, with disabled access and information boards.

Cllr Moir said Ashcourt was living in a dream world by proposing a car-free development and predicted visitors to the chapel would drive, causing problems on the roads in the area.

However, highways officials are satisfied with the scheme.

The development will be modern in style, with each block two or three storeys high. There will be a reception, manager’s office, music room, laundry and common room. Access will be off the A690.

The plans originally envisaged 229 beds.