A CONTROVERSIAL plan to put holiday units on green belt land which drew more than 160 objections was narrowly passed by councillors.

The proposal for four holiday units in eight cedar-clad shipping containers behind Poplar Terrace Garden Centre, Hall Lane, Shincliffe was recommended for refusal.

But Durham County Council’s planning committee went against its officers and voted for the scheme.

Read more: Shining a light on everything County Durham has to offer

The plan was approved by a majority of one after the developer mounted a defence, claiming he was a victim of “local misrepresentation”.

The council received 161 comments objecting to the proposals, saying they were harmful to the green belt, an “eyesore” encroaching on the countryside affecting wildlife offering few jobs or economic benefits.

However, 30 supporters said it was an innovative plan for a secluded site with little visual impact, boosting tourism and the economy.

Senior planning officer Jennifer Jennings said it was a “very finely balanced decision” but there were no “special circumstances” outweighing the harm to the green belt, although the harm was deemed limited, reversible and temporary.

Shincliffe Parish Council objected to the garden centre and Unbox Ltd’s plan, citing the green belt conflict during a time of climate emergency.

Representative Michael Banks said granting permission would set a precedent, “the thin end of the wedge”. He said: “What message are we sending out by building on it?”

Ward councillor David Stoker agreed, and said of the proposal: “Not one person supported it.”

Colin Jubb, representing the Shincliffe Green Belt Action Group, described it as “this latest attempt to nibble away at the green belt”.

He said the containers were not temporary and were inappropriate development with “minimal” economic and employment benefit.

James Wilson, speaking for the developer, said he was “driven by my dedication to the environment and my passion to promote the very best of Durham” and wanted to protect and improve the area’s beauty.

He asserted the plan was “a minute change” on a private, unseen location and would re-naturalise part of the green belt, planting 60 trees.

He told the committee meeting: “To refuse this is to not only deny £160,000 increase in visitor spend every year, but it is to deny the means for Durham to showcase itself.”

Cllr Jonathan Elmer opposed the plan, saying: “The green belt protects the heritage of the city and its surrounding area. Heritage is the reason that people visit this area.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Jonathan Elmer. Picture: PAUL NORRISCllr Jonathan Elmer. Picture: PAUL NORRIS

“So it’s vital to protect the green belt if we’re actually going to protect and sustain the economy. We can’t allow nibbling away at the green belt.”

Cllr Jim Atkinson supported the plan, saying it was temporary and the units could be shifted quickly.

He said of the land: “It’s sat on the back end of a car park. It looks a little bit like an industrial estate. I think it’s a good enterprise. I think the applicant made a very good case.”

Cllr Carl Marshall said there was a shortage of tourist accommodation, the visitor economy was worth nearly £900m pre-Covid and should be making “at least double that”.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Carl MarshallCllr Carl Marshall

He said the plan was “proportionate, in scale and in keeping with the area” and “well thought through”.

Councillors voted 7-6 to approve the plan.

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