A COUNCIL’S multi-billion pound vision of County Durham as a booming economic powerhouse is in tatters tonight, after it was panned in the strongest terms by an independent assessor.
Planning Inspector Harold Stephens said Durham County Council’s 20-year economic blueprint the County Durham Plan (CDP) contains proposals which are unrealistic, flawed, not justified, deliverable or environmentally acceptable and unsound.

  • If not this, then what is the future for County Durham
  • ECHO COMMENT: Back to the drawing board

    In a 29-page interim report issued three months after concluding a six-week public inquiry into the masterplan, Mr Stephens effectively leaves the council with just one option: after a process lasting more than five years, involving countless hours of work and costing the taxpayer several hundred thousand pounds, it should withdraw the CDP and go back to the drawing board. 
    The council could still press on, although Mr Stephens says if it did he would probably conclude the CDP was “unsound”.
    Alternatively, it could suspend the process for up to six months. However, Mr Stephens suggests it would struggle to overcome the “fundamental issues” raised within that timeframe.
    The Inspector’s findings are a massive blow to the North-East’s biggest council and have shocked County Hall.
    But they were cause for celebration among CDP critics, including green campaigners and residents’ groups.
    The CDP’s headline proposals include: 31,400 new homes, 500 hectares of employment land and 9,500sq metres of retail space, with the aim of creating 30,000 jobs across the county by 2030.
    Durham City would become a boom town, with 5,200 new homes, including 4,000 on Green Belt land, two bypasses and a world-class business hub at Aykley Heads.
    Mr Stephens says the assessment of housing need is “too high” because the council’s economic vision makes “unrealistic assumptions” about jobs growth and inward migration.
    He says the focus on Durham City for new housing is “not justified” and further work is needed to address the needs of other towns and villages.
    On changing and building on the Green Belt, he says the process and evidence are “flawed” particularly in relation to the 4,000 “unnecessary” homes proposed for the Durham City Green Belt, and orders a full review of other areas.
    Mr Stephens says the proposed western and northern relief roads are “not justified, deliverable or environmentally acceptable”, incompatible with the Government’s crucial soundness tests, directly threaten the achievement of sustainable development and should be withdrawn as unsustainable and unnecessary.
    Linked to that, he urges greater focus on public transport, cycling and walking.
    The Inspector says the CDP policies on executive housing would fail the Government’s key soundness test and the student housing proposals are not sound, effective or sufficient to achieve more balanced communities.
    On the way forward, Mr Stephens says the council could press ahead but “it is very likely that, on the basis of the evidence submitted so far, I would probably conclude that the submitted Plan is unsound” because it has “fundamental shortcomings”.
    Alternatively, the process could be suspended for up to six months but the Inspector says “it is very likely to be unrealistic to suggest that these (fundamental issues) could be rectified within six months”.
    Finally, the council could withdraw the CDP, a drastic step all at County Hall are desperate to avoid.
    Mr Stephens concludes: “I am fully aware of the council’s ambition to adopt a Local Plan for County Durham as soon as practicable and to avoid unnecessary delays to examination.
    “However, it is not in the best interests of planning or plan-making to recommend an unsound plan for adoption, which would clearly run the risk of subsequent legal challenge.
    “Consequently, I would ask the council to carefully consider the implications of these interim views before advising me on the preferred course of action.”