Plans for a major apartment complex on a “eyesore” site in Durham City have been given the go-ahead by councillors.
Last year, plans were submitted for an area of land between Holly Street and John Street, known locally as Nelson’s Yard, which has sat vacant for decades.
The site lies within the Durham City Centre Conservation Area and within close proximity of Durham Castle and Cathedral UNESCO World Heritage Site.
New plans included building a 27-apartment block with a mix of one and two bedroom pads.
Despite planners recommending the three-and-a-half storey building for approval, the development sparked concerns.
Objectors included City of Durham Parish Council, the nearby Durham Spiritualist Church and MP Roberta Blackman-Woods.
Concerns included the impact on the conservation area, highway safety and overshadowing for neighbours.
Developers previously submitted an application for student accommodation on the site which was refused and subsequently dismissed at appeal.
Although the applicant said the new development would offer private housing, objectors raised concerns about the site becoming student flats in future.
Coun Roger Cornwell, of City of Durham Parish Council, said the application might be a means to “get student accommodation by stealth”.
He called for the developer to increase the number of two bedroom apartments and an age limit to “exclude undergraduates”.
Coun Liz Brown, of the Neville’s Cross division, added the apartments could cater to a shortage of accommodation of older people, vulnerable adults and people with disabilities.
At a meeting to decide the application at Durham County Hall, several members of the area planning committee said conditions should be put in place to exclude students.
Proposals included an ‘over 25s only’ policy – with families with at least one person meeting this threshold being eligible to live in the flats.
But Coun Richard Manchester said the conditions were “completely unnecessary” given the need to attract and retain young professionals to boost Durham’s economy.
Following a lengthy debate, the proposed conditions were defeated by councillors in a vote.
An applicant statement claimed the site suffers from trespassing and fly-tipping with the plans helping to transform a “wasted asset” into a well-designed scheme.
As part of the plans, developers agreed to repair a retaining wall to Holly Street and provide a vehicle turning area to improve highway safety for users of John Street.
Nicola Allan, representing applicant Paul Thapar, added said the design of the scheme would reflect housing in the area.
She told the meeting: “No other scheme is possible, we have a developer who has worked for five years to look for alternatives and a previous residential scheme wasn’t built out because this site has high build cost and abnormals.
“This is a bespoke developer who has family links in Durham and for that reason he’s willing to take a long-term view of his capital investment.
“This is the brilliant opportunity to get something on this site and improve the conservation area.”
As part of a section 106 legal agreement with the council, large sums are set to be paid to the council to reduce the impact of the development.
This includes £36,363 towards play provision in the Neville’s Cross ward, £70,574.40 towards school places and £1,334.90 towards biodiversity improvements.
However, the developer was unable to meet a request for 25% affordable housing due to the “viability” issues.
Coun David Freeman said: “At face value, this is a welcome development but I do have some concerns.
“We have one bedroom flats and the lack of any car parking provision which also suggests student use long-term as families or couples usually have a car.
“It’s also disappointing that we will not have affordable housing in this development, there always seems to be some supposedly sound reason for not having affordable housing in Durham City.
“Planning officers are always flexible but are flexible to the point where we don’t get any affordable housing at all.”
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Coun Beverley Coult added: “Visiting the site this morning to be honest what I saw was an absolute eyesore.
“I think the development with the conditions applied by the officers would be a great improvement to the area.”
Following discussion the plans were granted by a majority vote.
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