A PLAN to demolish a landmark building on the edge of Durham city is recommended for approval next week – despite stiff opposition from residents, local politicians and conversation experts.

City of Durham MP Mary Kelly Foy, Belmont Parish Council, Durham County Councillor Jonathan Elmer and dozens of residents have objected to the Apollo Bingo hall, on Sherburn Road, being razed to make way for student flats.

Durham County Council’s own design and conservation department has raised “strong concerns” about the proposal, which include the loss of a non-designated heritage asset.

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But on Tuesday, the authority’s planning officers will recommend that members of the area planning committee (central and east) give the scheme the green light.

In a report to councillors, officers state that “on balance the development is acceptable” and that the proposal, by Durham Grove Limited and Majestic Bingo, meets the broad aims of the County Durham Plan.

The building set for demolition opened in 1938 as the Majestic Cinema and uses over the years have included a boxing gym, skateboard arena and most recently a bingo hall.

But the current operator says it is no longer commercially sustainable as a bingo hall, due to changing customer patterns following the Covid pandemic.

It states that selling the property would enable a site “in danger of vacancy and dereliction” to be redeveloped and help secure the future of the company’s 12 remaining clubs, including the Hippodrome Bingo Club in Bishop Auckland.

In planning documents, the applicant claims the proposed three and four-storey purpose-built student accommodation block, with 128 bedrooms, would help meet significant demand as the university continues to grow and that it has the potential to support local businesses, public transport and be a catalyst for further regeneration of the Sherburn Road area.

However, objectors question the need for student accommodation in the Gilesgate area and feel the proposed building would not reflect the layout, character, scale and appearance of the neighbourhood and would result in an unacceptable impact upon surrounding residents with regard to overshadowing and disturbance.

Belmont Parish Council argues the scheme “would result in the loss of a bingo hall which is a much-loved leisure and tourist facility for the local community,” a point which was echoed by MP Mary Foy.

Ms Foy also feels the development would appear incongruous within the street scene, the site would be better used for affordable housing and that it is too remote from university facilities.

Objections from Durham County Councillor Jonathan Elmer, who represents the Brandon Division, include the anticipated noise and disturbance it would lead to for local residents, and the loss of leisure facilities with no social or economic benefit to local people. He believes the design is too prominent for surrounding townscape – saying the “monolithic block would be discordant with surroundings”.

The council has received 35 letters of objection – with a further 71 submitted but subsequently withdrawn by Acorn Community Group due to concerns over data protection – and five letters of support.

Officers will recommend planning permission for the proposal is approved with conditions, including a financial contribution of £114,622.50 from the developer towards improving or creating new off-site open space or amenity provision.

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