National and Devolved Politics

11.01.19

City and county councils clash over ‘unlawful’ location of new headquarters

Solicitors acting on behalf of the City of Durham Parish Council have written to Durham County Council to go against the authority’s “unlawful” plans to build a new headquarters in the city.

In an announcement this week, Simon Kelly, from Richard Buxton Solicitors, wrote a 12-page letter to Durham CC’s chief executive Terry Collins challenging the proposals that would relocate 800 council staff members to the new facility, and arguing that some statements including the council’s transport impact assessment— the ‘TA’— is “fundamentally flawed,” amongst other issues.

Durham County Council outlined its full business case in January for the move to build its new HQ, the Aykley Heads site, in Durham city centre on The Sands carpark.

The site, which is home to Atom Bank, the North East of England Chamber of Commerce, and many other businesses, has been designated as a strategic employment site capable of attracting 6,000 new private sector jobs worth £400m to the country’s economy.

However, Kelly argued that the move would be unlawful due to a variety of reasons: the plans’ accompanying Environmental Statement does not consider the wider proposals for the Aykley Heads site, failing to meet both European and national regulations; the proposals do not meet national or local plan policies; the consideration of traffic and air quality impacts is inadequate; and the council does not have enough information on which it can properly reach a decision.

“On the basis of the information we have seen to date, we do not consider the application is policy compliant,” the letter wrote. “Nor do we consider that the council has sufficient information to reach a decision that the material considerations in favour of the application outweigh the policy breaches (which are in any event, more than merely technical).

“Should the council decide to approve the application on the basis of the current information as currently advanced, then we consider that the council would have failed to understand or apply both NPPF policy and its own local plan policy, have failed to have regard to material consideration, and have acted unlawfully.”

Durham New HQ 2

The planning application is currently on hold, awaiting comments from the Environment Agency, which has statutory responsibilities on flooding and air pollution issues.

“Our solicitors have advised that such grounds for challenge do indeed exist and set these out in a 12-page letter,” explained Roger Cornwell, who chairs the Parish Planning Committee.

“As the legal advice received also highlights that to determine the application at present would be unlawful, our Planning Committee decided unanimously on 4 January that the proper course of action was to submit this letter to the County Council. That was done later the same evening.”

Head of legal and democratic services at Durham County Council Helen Lynch said the local authority has received the letter “and will be considering its contents and will respond in due course.”

Lynch added: “As a planning authority, we have very robust processes in place to ensure that all applications are considered fairly, properly and in accordance with the relevant legal requirements.”

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Image credit: Durham County Council

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