PLANS for new homes on the site of a former magistrates’ court have been turned down after police warned that shared drives could lead to arguments between neighbours.

In 2017, Durham County Council granted outline planning permission for up to 20 homes on the site off Ashdale Road, in Consett, on land next to the leisure centre and academy.

With the court buildings now demolished, developer, Believe Housing, recently brought forward a full scheme for 100 per cent affordable units.

This included 20 properties with a mixture of two and three bedrooms and private/visitor parking.

The county council’s North Area Planning Committee rejected the plans, with design issues, crime fears and the loss of up to 30 trees on the site dominating the debate at Durham County Hall.

Councillors also discussed an objection from Durham Police over the estate creating potential traffic issues and increased demand on police resources.

Police concerns included the number of shared drives on the estate which, the force argued, could spark neighbour disputes and antisocial behaviour.

Cllr Owen Temple, who represents Consett North, accepted the principle of housing on the site but raised concerns about the density of homes and “damning submission from the police.”

He added that the changes to the plan, since the original outline application, conflicted with several policies.

“You have seen the vast improvement that has been created in the built environment in this area with a £40 million investment by Durham County Council in an academy and leisure centre,” he said.

“The immediate area of housing just above that is also much less dense at 27 dwellings per hectare than what is proposed on this site.

“I think this proposal will undermine the vast improvement that has been made in this area because it’s too dense.

“That’s the essence of my complaint, brownfield sites in County Durham on average have 22 dwellings per hectare built on them, this proposal is for 38/39 – it’s nearly double the density.”

Cllr Alex Watson added the estate could add as many as 40 extra vehicles to the highway network – creating safety issues in the wider Consett area.

He added that at peak times it would be “extremely difficult” for emergency vehicles to gain access because of traffic “tailbacks” on Medomsley Road.

The meeting heard highways officers had no objections over parking and extra traffic – with no accident data to prove the estate access was a risk.

Officers added that double yellow lines would be brought in to protect the entrance to the estate.

An agent for Believe Housing. speaking at the meeting, said the plans would help address a “shortfall” of affordable homes in the area.

Councillors heard that no trees on the site were listed under council tree preservation orders.

But developers confirmed they would bring forward extra tree planting and landscaping as part of the housing plan.

Planning officers, recommending the plans for approval, added the scheme was “highly sustainable” due to its location and brownfield nature.

While admitting the scheme was finely balanced, they concluded that adverse impacts did not “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.”

During discussion, members of the North Area Planning Committee were not convinced.

Coun Liz Brown said she was disappointed that there was no provision for the elderly.

Coun Kevin Thompson said he was concerned about the police objections and the loss of trees, given the council’s climate change commitments.

And Coun John Shuttleworth added: “On the first [outline] application the trees were there to be seen and this happens all too often.

“Things are approved in this room and they go upstairs and a different thing appears six months later.

“It’s not really fair and we have to take notice of these people [local councillors], they’re elected to represent their wards.”

Under a section 106 legal agreement, Believe Housing agreed in principle to provide £9,660 towards local health services in the area.

However, the developer was unable to meet initial requests for education and open space in full due to “abnormal costs” associated with the estate.

The agreed contribution of £34,485 was also labelled as “inadequate compensation”by objectors.

Following discussion, a motion to refuse the application was carried by majority vote.

Policy clashes around the standard of design – including density and ‘the designing out of crime’ – and the loss of trees were listed as reasons for refusal.