A DEBATE over the "studentification" of Durham city centre was reignited with proposals to expand a student house.

Supporters of the plan to extend a four-bedroom home of multiple occupancy (HMO) said it was "lunacy" to oppose it - especially as a developer had won an appeal against refusal for a similar plan at the house next door in 2020.

However opponents felt the plan flouted council policies designed to tackle "studentification" and encourage a better balance of age ranges in the city.

Nick Swift applied to put an extension on the two-storey semi-detached home at Whinney Hill, Durham, adding two extra bedrooms.

Planning officers recommended approval for the scheme in an area of 45.5% student properties exempt from council tax.

They said there was a "fall-back position" where, if refused, the developer could provide the same bed spaces without planning permission anyway under permitted development rights.

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Councillor Jonathan Elmer said: "It's going into an area where there's already a high proportion of student-converted properties, thus impacting on the balance of that community, forcing permanent residents out and that sort of thing."

He said the proposal breached a hard-fought policy in the County Durham Plan to "draw a line" on the issue.

The policy to promote "inclusive, mixed and balanced communities" says extensions will not be allowed if more than 10% of homes in the area are exempt from council tax.

Cllr Elmer added: "It's there because everybody is so concerned about the impact of what they call 'studentification' of the city, the way it's creating a very imbalanced age structure across the city and the impact on services, provision and anti-social behaviour and all that sort of thing.

"The entire purpose is to enable the creation of a more balanced community across Durham city."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Jonathan Elmer. Picture: Paul Norris.Cllr Jonathan Elmer. Picture: Paul Norris.

He said the dominance of people in their 20s had a massive impact on the city's communities.

He added: "I think it's very important we go against the officer's recommendation and refuse this application."

Cllr Carl Marshall said it was "a tricky one" as HMOs had an impact on families, but refusing it without a robust case would be "risking the taxpayer's money frivolously".

He said: "I don't think there's enough grounds and it'll cost the council money.

"It's lunacy the fact that there's an application been overturned at an appeal just down the road from this and here we are talking abour rejecting this against the officer's recommendations.

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

"I've always had concerns about how the university develops in-keeping with the rest of the city.

"That position's going to be exacerbated with the sale of the HQ on The Sands and thousands of students flooding the city.

"But they need to live somewhere."

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The City of Durham Parish Council, the City of Durham Trust, Whinney Hill Community Group and a resident objected with concerns over building disruption, privacy, overlooking, parking, bins and noise.

Chairman Cllr David Freeman said the plan should be refused as the policy should be defended.

The applicant said the extension would not affect the availability of housing and the plan had been carefully amended in discussions with planning officers.

Councillors voted 7-5 to approve the plan.


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