A PLANNING inspector has told a council to rethink its student housing policy, in a move welcomed by delighted campaigners.

Harold Stephens, the independent inspector leading the ongoing examination in public of Durham County Council’s 15-year economic masterplan the County Durham Plan (CDP), today (Thursday, October 30) ordered an “urgent” review, after hearing more than two hours of angry criticism.

Residents claimed houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) were killing Durham, the city was being consumed in a mad gold rush for student accommodation with developers scrambling to snap up every available scrap of land and some streets had been reduced to just one permanent resident.

Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said the CDP’s student housing policy was extremely deficient and Durham University proposed major changes.

Harvey Dowdy, the university’s deputy director of estates and buildings, said it was most concerned at the spread of purpose-built student accommodation, predicted it would create an over-supply and said it could not be in the interests of the city for it to be given over to speculative development.

Alan Hayton, from Whinney Hill Community Group, appealed to Mr Stephens to be Durham’s knight in shining armour and the inspector responded by giving the council just two weeks to look at “revised policy or policies which address these concerns”.

Over the four weeks of the inquiry to date, Mr Stephens had expressed little opinion on the debate.

However, in his first major intervention, he said he had been “struck the consensus round the table” on student housing, rejected the council’s plan to use a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) drawn up at a later stage to settle the details as “kicking the ball into the long grass” and said the council should consider issues of residential amenity, parking, noise, regeneration and HMOs.

“The key players are round the table here today. They should have their say on policy,” he added.

Dr Blackman-Woods said the city had been “waiting many years for this opportunity” and others also welcomed the move.

David Randall, for the council, said its proposals supported mixed and balanced communities in Durham City.

The inquiry at Durham County Cricket Club continues.