CONCERNS have been raised about part of the North-East's railway heritage during a debate about whether to give planning permission for a business park in County Durham.

Durham County Council's County Planning Committee approved the plans for a 55-hectare business site near Newton Aycliffe on Tuesday.

The development by Forrest Park (Newton Aycliffe) Ltd will see the creation of 1.75 million sq ft of business, industrial, warehouse and trade units, a 60-bed hotel, pub, roadside restaurant and retail units next to the A1.

Although councillors voted with planning officers’ recommendations, by a nine to four majority, to approve the scheme, several members raised concerns.

Cllr Alan Shield warned the council to take care “translocating” a protected species native to the site – Great Crested Newts – during the development.

Cllr Mark Wilkes raised fears about the impact on the environment and loss of biodiversity.

“The sheer density of what is being proposed here, I think it is excessive. If that was a housing site they would want more open space for the people living there,” he said.

“You have got hundreds and hundreds of people working here and I’m not convinced that there’s sufficient open space there, considering you’re taking away good agricultural land and replacing it with such a high density of buildings.”

He added: “You’re taking a load of fields and open land away, removing trees, diverting and removing a waterway, impacting on wild bird sites and a heritage site.

“I don’t see how it can possibly be contributing to the enhancement of the natural environment.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England also raised concerns about the impact on a section of heritage railway near the site – a site recognised in the emerging County Durham Plan.

A charity linked to the site – Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (FSDR) – added a proposed walking and cycling heritage trail through the site was “inadequate”.

In their submission to the committee, the FSDR called for the council to provide a temporary route while discussions continue to “safeguard” the prospect of a line-side route in coming years.

Planning officers stressed the plans were at the “outline” stage and the council were taking a “precautionary approach” going forward.

The meeting heard the final layout of the development and location of a route would be decided at a later date.

When completed, the development, which could create up to 3,200 jobs, will extend Aycliffe Business Park to become the largest in the North East and is expected to boost County Durham’s economy by almost half a billion pounds over the next 20 years.

The plans are a joint venture by the council and the Forrest family, supported by commercial property developer Richardson Barberry.

While planning officers admitted there would be an element of landscape harm, they said the benefits of the development would outweigh any adverse impacts.

Following debate, the development was secured with a majority vote from the planning committee with nine councillors backing the scheme and four voting against.

This approval is also subject to a legal agreement which will see the developer pay £173,668 to reduce the impact on biodiversity and £100,000 for a temporary bus service from the site.

Leader of Durham County Council, Coun Simon Henig, said he was “delighted” at the planning decision.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: “This is an opportunity for us to attract new businesses to County Durham, creating thousands of high-quality jobs and boosting the local economy.

“This is not just about investing in today; it is about creating an environment where businesses can flourish, and future generations of residents can access exciting opportunities and enjoy rewarding careers near to where they live.”

Barberry developments director, Jonathan Robinson, added the approval was “major news for the North East.”

“Richardson Barberry, working alongside Durham County Council, the Forrest family and the Local Enterprise Partnership, has a vision to create a business park that provides a wide range of high-quality accommodation which will attract local, regional, national and international occupiers, stimulating economic growth and new jobs for the region,” he said.

“Following today’s committee decision, we will continue to promote Forrest Park and further our conversations with several key occupiers.

“We now have a prominent motorway- connected, serviced and consented site ready for development, and are excited at the prospect of delivering one of the North East’s premier business parks.”

Last year, planning permission was granted to improve access to the site with major highways, signalisation, drainage and power upgrades completed.

This included the creation of a new traffic light-controlled junction on the A167.