Plans to redevelop a Durham shopping mall into a mixed-use housing and leisure facility have been praised for transforming the city centre site. 

Councillors on Durham County Council’s planning committee approved a proposal for the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre last week

New commercial units and public spaces will be created alongside a hotel and student accommodation. Applicant Citrus Durham Ltd said the redevelopment will cater to modern-day shopping habits and repurpose vacant units. 

It is hoped the new 101-room hotel will attract tourists to stay longer in Durham City.

How the Prince Bishops shopping centre development could lookHow the Prince Bishops shopping centre development could look (Image: Citrus Durham Ltd)

Local county councillor David Freeman said the plans provide a long-term viability for the site, which is at risk if no change occurs. 

He added: “Many residents I speak to are very unhappy about the proposal, but the retail world has changed and large numbers of big retailers are not coming back to the city, unfortunately. I accept that the shopping centre must change for it to be acceptable and as such an asset to the city. The reconfiguration will better suit the needs of national and independent retailers and leisure users.”

However, the Liberal Democrat member for Elvet and Gilesgate said concerns over the appearance of the shopping centre remain and that it doesn’t fit well into the conservation area. “These proposals produce a more open and visually less-confused appearance but will slightly enhance the area compared to what is there now,” cllr Freeman added.

For cllr Craig Martin, the current appearance of Prince Bishops is also an issue. “I really hate the Prince Bishops development,” he told a planning meeting. 

“If I was starting from scratch again and rebuilding Durham city I’d never have built that. I think it’s a blot on a medieval city and brings it down. But it’s there and we have to deal with it. I’m not jumping for joy and doing backflips at this application, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

How the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre looks todayHow the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre looks today

He also warned that city and town centres are dying because of the over-reliance on retail space and praised the developer’s intention to create a mixed-use facility. 

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That view was echoed by cllr Kevin Shaw, who praised the “excellent” proposal. He added: “The mixture of new and existing uses in a modern context is really quite stunning. As local members we’ve all got our high streets, many of them failed, as habits and needs have changed. The innovation shown in this proposal clearly sits well in the historic setting of the city.”

Up to 408 new student bed spaces will be created as part of the plans, and residents hope it will alleviate the problems of students living in HMOs throughout the city. 

Cllr Alan Bell added: “We all know every town centre is on its knees. To see and hear this application is such a big plus for Durham. We should all be embracing what’s being proposed. It’s a better scheme than what’s there now.”