Campaigners hope the refusal of two student home planning appeals in Durham City is a sign of residential areas being protected from an influx of university students. 

The Government Planning Inspectorate recently dismissed two appeals from landlords in the city that hoped to convert or extend properties into Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), designed for students. 

Landlords have faced significant opposition from residents in recent years, who say the city is becoming overpopulated with students and are taking over what were once residential neighbourhoods. Their calls have recently been backed by members of Durham County Council’s planning committee by refusing several applications in recent months. 

Among the proposals considered by Inspector Clark were plans to convert a six-bed former family home into a nine-bed HMO on Larches Road. It was submitted by G M and J Properties – on behalf of Gabrielle Moore, a well-known student landlord business operating in the city - but faced opposition from residents. 

The application was initially tabled in July 2022 but was refused by the local authority in May 2023 due to the impact it would have on the living conditions of nearby residents, including noise, disturbance and anti-social behaviour. 

The Northern Echo: Concerns raised by neighbours on Larches Road detailed how there is often late night disturbance emanating from the propertyConcerns raised by neighbours on Larches Road detailed how there is often late night disturbance emanating from the property (Image: Google)

Concerns raised by neighbours detailed how there is often late night noise from groups in the back garden, gatherings in the street, and talking and shouting, which go on into the early hours of the morning.

The report added: “This is particularly distressing when it disturbs sleep. It is also apparent that the police have been called to address anti-social behaviour.”

However, the council’s environmental health officers did not object to the proposal, as it was considered unlikely to cause a statutory noise nuisance.

Gabrielle Moore said she had rarely received complaints from neighbours about the property and urged the inspector to approve the application. She said: “I had complaints from neighbours about one group of tenants who lived at 1 Larches Road almost three years ago after they had a party… I wasn’t contacted again so presumably the problem did not re-occur.”

But Inspector Clark ruled that increasing the occupants would likely exacerbate the existing situation, “leading to increased and unacceptable noise, disturbance and anti-social behaviour”. 

They added: “I conclude that three more occupants would result in unacceptable additional noise, disturbance and anti-social behaviour, detrimental to the living conditions of neighbours.” 

A planning appeal to change a three-bed HMO into six bedrooms at Magdalene Heights, Gilesgate, was also dismissed on similar grounds. Inspector Clark considered whether the proposal would be contrary to local policy on student accommodation and its impact on nearby residents. 

The appellant, Dr Garg of Kabiyan Limited, argued it would not have a “materially greater impact” on neighbouring residents and provided details of similar schemes in the area which previously received planning approval - but the inspector said each application must be judged on its own merit. 

The Northern Echo: The proposal detailed plans to convert the Magdalene Heights home into a six-bed HMOThe proposal detailed plans to convert the Magdalene Heights home into a six-bed HMO (Image: Google)

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Durham County Council’s environmental health officer again raised no objection to the proposal regarding noise and disturbance and recommended that the developer provide an effective management plan. 

Inspector Clark ruled it would comply with the council’s planning policy and said additional noise and disturbance would be negligible, but concluded: “the proposal conflicts with the development plan taken as a whole. There are no other considerations which indicate that the decision should be made other than in accordance with the development plan”.

Reacting to the news, the vice-chair of Durham City Parish Council’s planning and licensing Committee, cllr Susan Walker, said: “This decision places an indisputable and urgent need for the county council to seriously review its ‘you say jump, we say how high’ policy of getting rid of much-needed family homes in place of yet more student accommodation.”

G M and J Properties or Dr Garg could not be contacted for comment.