COUNCILLORS have agreed to allow eight floodlights to be built at a sports centre despite concerns over its impact on Durham’s greenbelt.

The scheme is aimed at making Durham University’s facilities at Maiden Castle, off the A177 between Durham and Shincliffe, usable at night and is part of a £35m project to improve the centre.

The plans were met by some opposition from several residents and the City of Durham Trust, because of concerns about the impact on the green belt and World Heritage Site.

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Recommending approval, senior planning officer Henry Jones said, while the plans did constitute an inappropriate development in the green belt, they would cause “less than substantial” harm.

He added special circumstances - the maximisation of sport participation for the university and wider community - outweighed any harm.

Councillor Liz Brown, who called in the application, said in a letter to a planning committee meeting: “I am uneasy that the university, having unveiled its masterplan in a blaze of publicity, is actioning in one small application at a time.

“The Maiden Castle site seems to be an accumulation of small applications leading to a large and intrusive whole on green belt land.”

City of Durham Trust chairman Roger Cornwell said: “Support from Sport England is very generic. It does not address the particular circumstances of this site in any way.”

Durham University’s director of experience, Quentin Sloper, said the sensitively designed floodlighting would contribute to the objective of “improved student experience through enhanced sports facilities development”. It would improve accessibility for usage by members of the public.

He said: “Without the floodlights the use of the 3G pitch would be limited in winter months, which would have a substantial negative impact upon the great potential for the 3G pitch to meet the growing student sport participation population of the university and the local and regional community.”