A NEW athletics track has won planning permission despite attracting more than 100 objections from residents.

Councillors were divided over the proposed track at Durham County Council's planning committee.

Some saw clear-cut benefits for health and the "greater good of residents" from the volunteer-led scheme.

Others were concerned about the plan using land either on the NETPark site - "the jewel in County Durham's economic crown" - or safeguarded for its future expansion.

The East Durham Community Athletics Track Steering Group (EDCAT) applied to build the floodlit community athletics track.

It will have 127 free car parking spaces and coach parking on 6.3 hectares of undeveloped greenfield land near Burdon Place, Sedgefield.

The Northern Echo: The planned athletics track in Sedgefield. Picture: Sports Labs.The planned athletics track in Sedgefield. Picture: Sports Labs.

Principal planning officer Henry Jones said the plan received 241 representations from the public, including 135 objections, 103 supporting.

Objectors included the Campaign to Protect Rural England, British Horse Society and Sedgefield Development Trust.

They said the site was unsuitable, would cause visual, heritage and ecological harm and loss of employment land, with concerns over impact on residents, horses and equestrian activities, road safety, flood risk and drainage. 

They argued the plan contradicted the consideration of an ecological emergency in County Durham.

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Shemuel Sheikh, representing Lizards Farm and Hardwick Grange, said: "The site is essentially countryside.

"There is no need for an athletics facility."

He said approval would "set a dangerous precedent" and harm the landscape, wildlife, archaeological activity and residents as little as 50m away.

Roger Clubley from the Sedgefield Development Trust said the plan would drain bogs and release tonnes of carbon, drive protected species from the area and displace many more.

"The site is probably the least appropriate in the local area," he added.

Supporters including Sport England, athletics and sporting clubs and outdoor activity organisations pointed to health and economic benefits.

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Jonathan Wallace, for EDCAT, said they had been trying to obtain a site for more than a decade: "All are too sensitive in landscape, heritage and ecological terms.

"There simply aren't any alternatives."

He said the development had a high level of community support and would have a positive environment impact, with a large wetland area and a careful landscape strategy.

He said the project had been allocated £350,000 and raised £100,000: "We're very confident that this will get built. We're ready to go."

Ean Parsons, chair of the steering group and founder of Sedgefield Harriers, said the track would provide a facility with council funding, a realistic business plan and a 30-year lease.

He added: "If approved I am confident that over the life of the track we will reach many thousands of young people, as well as positively impacting the lifestyle of the population of East Durham as well."

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Planning officers recommended approval, saying the "transformative impact" would be balanced out.

They concluded it would bring sporting benefits and "no unacceptable impacts" to residents or ecology.

However Councillor Bill Moist said: "I'd love to support it but I can't support the application.

"We are striving to bring more and better jobs to County Durham and this is the jewel in the crown.

"We are in effect hobbling ourselves by restricting the expansion of NETPark.

"There must be better alternative sites."

Councillor Craig Martin argued the facilities would entice employees: "I would actually argue that putting this athletics track here would actually benefit NETPark. It makes it a more desirable location.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Craig Martin. Picture: Durham County CouncilCllr Craig Martin. Picture: Durham County Council

"I am very happy with supporting this application. We need more of these facilities just for the public."

Cllr David Boyes said: "This is going to be for the greater good of residents.

"My reservations have been answered."

Cllr Carl Marshall said it would complement NETPark, making it a more attractive investment opportunity while helping people live longer, healthier, active lives.

He said: "I've never seen a planning application in a while that's been as clear-cut."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.

Cllr Alan Bell said: "It's such a hard one to refuse. Athletics needs all the support it can get."

Councillors voted 9-5 to approve the plan.

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