Durham's future housing should cater for more than students, says MP

Roberta Blackman-Woods says County Durham Plan must strike a balance and offer something to families, older people and professionals

Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for Durham City and Deputy Minister for the North
Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for Durham City and Deputy Minister for the North

Housing in Durham city must strike a balance and not simply cater for students, an MP has warned.

Roberta Blackman-Woods made the call as part of an inquiry into the County Durham Plan, the local authority’s blueprint for housing and economic development.

The Labour MP for Durham City told planning inspectors affordable housing for families, professionals and older residents must be available within the city and its surrounding villages.

The County Durham Plan is set to shape the future of the county for the next 15 years but its critics say it is ‘Durham city-centric’ and 4,000 of the 30,000 homes the plan allows for are on green belt land.

Plans are being examined in public before Government chiefs decide whether to move forward.

The MP said: “Recent planning applications for purpose-built student accommodation mean that Durham City Centre is in danger of having an over provision of supply at the expense of affordable housing for families and others in the city and surrounding villages.

“There are currently almost 5,000 new student rooms either with planning permission, or proposed for development.

“It is important that the Planning Inspector understands the very great need for Durham County Council to have in place housing policies that ensure a greater balance in housing supply across tenures and prices if the needs of the whole community are to be met.”

The Labour MP said “good quality affordable housing” is desperately needed but that the plan, which is also aimed at encouraging businesses to set up shop in the county, must look to create skilled jobs for future generations.

She said: “In addition I will be encouraging the inspector to seek stronger economic development policies from the County Council with regard to putting partnerships together to provide highly skilled jobs in the area with associated supply chain employment and training opportunities in a range of advanced manufacturing sectors.”

Owen Temple, Lib Dem councillor on the authority, has recently spoken out about the County Durham Plan.

He said: “I see the County Durham Plan as a huge gamble based on two very dubious propositions: that Durham City is an attractive location for business, and that a prosperous Durham City can be relied on to provide “trickle down” benefits to the rest of the county.

“In reality ‘bottleneck Durham’ is unattractive to business, and as the area of the county with the lowest unemployment is not the right place in which to concentrate employment growth.”

Durham County Council submitted the plans in April and its examination in public, overseen by a senior Government inspector, continues this month.

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