Durham Diocese Board of Finance

We act on behalf of the Durham Diocese Board of Finance and have been instructed to submit a response to the Durham Local Plan (Preferred Options) Document on their behalf.

Our client has a number of landholdings across County Durham. Our response to the document should be read in conjunction with our previous submissions to the Issues and Options document and with a particular focus on our client's development sites. We are keen to ensure ongoing discussions and collaborative working with the Council in this respect.

We have had an opportunity to review the Local Plan document and the supporting evidence base alongside the Proposals Map and Infrastructure Delivery Plan. The Council's emerging planning framework is clearly ambitious and we welcome this approach which responds appropriately to an overarching economic growth scenario, the Council's evidence base and the NPPF. The alignment of housing policies with the economic policies within the plan is strongly supported.

Our detailed response to the document is set out below.

Policy 30: Housing Land Allocations

We fully support the identification of the land to the land to the South of Eden Drive and Stockton Road for new housing. At 17.1 hectares, the site is wholly able to comfortably accommodate up to 500 units at a widely acceptable rate of 30 dwellings per hectare while allowing for the creation of useful and suitable public open space and public realm that can both reinforce the sense of place and link the existing open space network at Sedgefield to the new development. The proposal will also offer the opportunity to create meaningful connections to the village centre.

Our clients own the northern parcel of land, directly adjacent to the built up area of Sedgefield (9.9ha). Significant technical work has already been undertaken to demonstrate that our client's site would be suitable and deliverable for new housing in the short term. This has included a full transport impact assessment, demonstrating that up to 300 new dwellings can be adequately accessed off Stockton Road. The site is therefore capable of coming forward in isolation.

We recognise, however, that the land to the south has also been identified as part of the allocation to ensure a comprehensive scheme, avoiding the need for piecemeal development around the town. We are therefore working in co-operation with the adjacent developer and landowner (who are actively promoting their site) to the south of our client's landholding, ensuring that our development can provide adequate flexibility to allow for suitable access and permeability to the southern part of the site. Our design work to date has been not just limited to an assessment of the immediate surroundings, but of the wider area to help gain a greater understanding of the ‘place'.

The allocated site has been considered against a range of alternative sites within Sedgefield. Development of alternative parcels of land (particularly to the east of the settlement) would: Encroach into open countryside and create ‘unconstrained sprawl' (SHLAA Refs. 7/SF/110); be distinctly separate from the village (SHLAA Ref. 7/SF/050); have a negative impact on an important and attractive rural setting (SHLAA Ref. 7/SF/124); is poorly related to the existing settlement (SHLAA Refs. 7/SF/110, 7/SF/065 and 7/SF/067); and would require significant highways infrastructure investment (SHLAA Ref. 7/SF/110).

It is also understood that significant utilities infrastructure improvements (up to £2 million) would be necessary to deliver a number of alternative options. When added to the costs associated with highways mitigation and other associated s106/CIL requirements, this suggests that the costs to deliver an alternative site for development would render any housing development unviable and therefore undeliverable.

In comparison, site HA/100 (SHLAA Refs. 7/SF/069 and 7/SF/122) represents a logical, well connected and well contained extension of the urban area which can be integrated into the existing neighbourhood and provide an appropriate design response to the adjacent residential area. Its development would not constitute an uncontrolled incursion into the open countryside. Our client's supporting technical work has not revealed any barrier to delivery.

We therefore fully support the Council's conclusions on the matter and suggest that there are no alternatives around the settlement for smart growth that serves to enhance the settlement. The areas to the east of the settlement will always provide a predominantly agricultural landscaped setting whereas Sedgefield to the south is already relatively compact and characterised by post war housing; a new redefined landscaped edge in this location will recreate a similar relationship and transition from open countryside abutting an expanded market town.

Our urban design and masterplanning work is ongoing and we will begin to engage with the local community to deliver a high quality scheme that respects the historic context, creates a sensitive landscape environment, a good housing mix and which will integrate with the existing urban grain of the town.

Our client also has landholdings at Shildon, identified as allocation reference HA/102. Our client owns the northernmost parcel of land which provides the link to the existing urban area. We understand that previous appeal decisions for housing on the land to the south have been dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate, largely as a result of the site's isolation from the built up area. The inclusion of our client's land into the allocation strengthens this connection to the town and we welcome its inclusion.

We would be happy to work alongside the Council in providing additional information in relation to viability and deliverability of both of these sites to help inform the Submission Draft of the Plan.

Thank you for your representation in relation to site ref HA/100. I note the information that you have submitted in relation to the site and your request for the sites allocation within the Plan. The site has been considered suitable for allocation. Development of the site would provide an opportunity to develop a sustainable urban extension to the settlement. The site is well contained by the A689.