WORKING hours at a major development in Durham City have been extended in a bid to get it back on track following delays.

Work on the 3.1 hectare mixed-use Milburngate site has continued during the Covid-19 lockdown and aims to pave the way for a riverside retail and leisure complex, apartments and offices.

In line with government guidance around extending construction working hours, developer Tolent applied to Durham County Council to up its hours at the site.

This includes 7am to 8pm, Monday to Friday and 8am to 6pm on Saturdays  – representing a 30 per cent increase across the working week.

The timings, which will run until May 13, 2021, allow weekday works to start 30 minutes earlier in the mornings and finish two hours later in the evenings.

On Saturdays, the changes would extend finish times by an extra five hours.

In an applicant statement, Tolent said existing Covid-19 safety measures meant the site could not operate at full capacity, which has in turn impacted upon the construction programme.

Longer hours, developers told the council’s County Planning Committee last week, would allow the scheme to continue without further delays while providing more flexibility for workers on site, which is running about 13 weeks behind schedule.

Tolent also agreed to avoid typically noisy activities during the extended hours, such as the breaking or cleaning of concrete, to limit the impact on residents.

Councillors heard the proposals sparked 11 letters of objection from neighbours and representations from the City of Durham Parish Council, Sidegate Residents Association and the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Objectors questioned the justification for extended hours, criticised consultation on the plan and raised issues about environmental monitoring in the past, particularly in relation to the adjacent hotel.

County councillor for Elvet and Gilesgate, David Freeman, called the application into the council’s area planning committee, which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube on Tuesday, November 3.

He said: "I have around 300 residents within 100 metres of this development site, they have had to experience noise, dirt and inconvenience and that is unfortunately to be expected during the working day.

“However, this development is looking to extend those hours, to extend the problems that residents have to experience into the evening at 8pm and throughout Saturday up to 6pm.

“I’m sure every  member here would not be supportive of this extension of building hours if it was within their ward and certainly as a member of one of the area planning committees, it is not something that I would find favourable for any member in any ward within this county.”

Councillor John Shuttleworth shared similar views and launched a motion for the plans to be refused.

“I’m not against people working but if this was in the middle of a field away from any houses I would have no problem with this,” he said.

“But to start at 7am, Monday to Friday when it’s dark nights, you’re going out when it’s dark you’re coming in when it’s dark, I think is really unreasonable to the residents of the City of Durham.”

Project director for Tolent Construction and the lead on the Milburngate scheme, Michael Rutherford, insisted that proposals for extended hours would not lead to increased noise levels or light pollution, with the extra time used for activities such as the safe distribution of materials within service corridors and tunnels.

In addition, the timings aim to be used to “schedule out deliveries to avoid peak times” and any increase in traffic in and around the city centre.

He said: “The application has not been made with the intention of operating all the activities on the site throughout the extended period.

“It simply provides us with the flexibility to manage the construction activities and the logistical arrangements on the project which creates valuable space and allows people and operations to be carried out in line with the government guidelines.”

Rutherford added: “We have continued to work [throughout the pandemic] and that is by and through the dedication and planning of the site team.

“However, this has been at a significantly reduced rate to what was anticipated within the original programme.

“By extending these hours we’re not going to recover those costs but we will mitigate further delays going on to the project.”

While admitting the proposals were ‘finely balanced’, planning officers said the “likely degree of the increase in impact” did not meet the test needed to warrant a recommendation to refuse.

Following debate, the extended hours were approved by a majority vote of 9 to 3, on the condition that environmental monitoring is “enhanced” to help keep the site in check.

The details will be finalised by the vice chair of the County Planning Committee, the planning department and Tolent outside the meeting.