An ongoing dispute between developers and a county council over plans to build thousands of homes north of Durham has reached a public inquiry. 

Bellway Homes, County Durham Land (CDL) and Durham County Council (DCC) are taking part in a two week inquiry into the plans for a new housing estate at Sniperley Park. 

The local authority and developers have disputed details of the development for several years, after planning officers previously said it was ‘minded to refuse’ two applications in 2022, and which has led to a fractious war of words between the parties.

Now, the final decision is due to be decided by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Housing and Levelling Up, following a report by a planning inspector. 

The Northern Echo: How some homes on the new estate could lookHow some homes on the new estate could look (Image: Bellway Homes)

The inquiry, which is due to finish next week, heard four planning appeals from the two developers. They include proposals to build up to 1,550 homes, a local centre, public house and primary school; and for up to 370 dwellings next to Sniperley Park and Ride, and the demolition or conversion of former farm buildings. 

The County Durham Plan allows for 1,700 houses to be built as a “sustainable urban expansion” at Sniperley Park on former green belt land west of the A167. Both developers argue that the development is central to delivering a significant part of the council’s housing land supply and would deliver significant social, economic and environmental health benefits.

About 338 affordable homes are planned as part of the site as well as hundreds of new jobs, which would generate multi-million pound investment. 

But DCC planning officers say both developers haven’t provided enough detail around the extra infrastructure and services in the area and that it is in conflict with the local plan.

The council said: “There are no material considerations that would indicate that planning permission ought to be granted.

“Merely showing on a plan across the two separate sites is nowhere near sufficient to justify a conclusion that actual delivery will occur.

“The response of CDL and Bellway is a shrug of the shoulders and to simply assert that if planning permission is granted both developments will proceed in a timely and efficient manner whereby a degree of confidence can be expected in terms of delivery.”

However, CDL and Bellway blamed the county council for the delays and have prepared their own masterplan.

“It is an understatement to say it is incredibly disappointing that this scheme is at appeal,” CDL said.

“Instead of working to deliver the allocation, for reasons which are unclear DCC has provided advice in respect of key areas which has been inconsistent, vague and at times unhelpful.

“The council’s case ultimately rests upon fundamental errors. The appellant’s evidence demonstrates that the CDL application on its own complies with the development plan - but is overwhelmingly likely to come forward with the Bellway scheme which in combination covers the entire allocation.”

The Northern Echo: The new housing estate is due to be built on land north of Sniperley park and Ride, near the A167The new housing estate is due to be built on land north of Sniperley park and Ride, near the A167 (Image: Google)

Counsel for CDL claimed the council’s position remains ‘eminently unclear’ despite the developers assurances that the scheme is consistent with the development plan. 

The statement added: “Its evidence and particularly its putative reasons for refusal do not equate to anything remotely resembling a positive indication as to what the council considers is needed to make the development, on an allocated site, acceptable.”

Bellway Homes blamed the political leadership change and the local authority for influencing the decisions in recent years. 

The developers opening statement read: “We cannot ignore the political context; namely in May 2021 a change in political administration led from an overall Labour control to a coalition. Key members of the said coalition have consistently opposed the Sniperley allocation, and made those same views known as part of the local plan examination. Negative consequences followed.

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“The oddest issue in this appeal is the council’s insistence that only one planning application ought to have been brought for the whole allocation, despite no legal or policy basis to support that assertion.”

Both developers argue the dispute is unnecessary and has been dragged out by the council and labelled the inquiry “sadly a futile and sterile debate about process elevated to principle”.

The statement added: “Why are we even here? Well, we all wait to find out in due course. As for the council, their incoherence is embarrassing, unhelpful and ultimately stifling progress."