Letter to an Editor

I wrote a small screed to our local newspaper concerning a proposed Development Plan for our whole County, and I thought I might reproduce it here. As I may have mentioned before, I have taken a deep and critical interest in local politics recently, so, as this Plan is so important, I thought I might stir up some effluent.:- (Note; the words in Red are quoted straight from the Plan).

To the Editors,

I am writing to advise your readers of a book that they simply must read. They won’t have to buy it, because it is free to those who wish access, either online, as a download, or as a normal printed book. It is a work of non-fiction, but there is, by this observer’s thinking, a great deal of both fiction and wishful thinking in this book of 301 pages. It has a really zingy title, well chosen for both brevity and accuracy; namely… The County Durham Plan (Pre-Submission Draft Local Plan). See what I mean? The words roll off your tongue like treacle spread over honey! It is a great pity that the contents don’t live up to the title, as there is planning, but not the type which most of us would accept as the result of neutral thought and open discussion. No, this document, which purports to be the Plan under which this whole County, along with all its residents, will be steered towards a happier, more productive and informed existence than they do at present; is in fact the worst sort of Socialist thinking in terms of the old-style attitude of ‘We know what is best, so shut up, pay your taxes, and we’ll let you know when its finished!’

Allow me to expand and explain. The book states, in great detail, The Plan as it purports to lay out the master-plan for regeneration, re-industrialisation and re-vitalisation of the County in which we live. I was not expecting to read a funny book, but there are pages which will generate laughter in the reader, but the laughter will not be of a humorous nature; but instead will be acid, sarcastic and derisory. The excerpts which will generate the laughter are entitled ‘Vision’, and explain, in great and glorious detail, how we shall all be living, some twenty years down the timeline, in a ‘Workers Paradise’, reminiscent of the Stalinist billboards which featured strong, muscular, chisel-featured  men and beautiful women, gazing forth into a rising sun, as they set forth to build that same ‘Paradise’.

We are told that Durham City’s traders and businesses will flourish, aided by the newly-built “relief roads”which will remove excess ‘through’ traffic from its overburdened main roads. Tourists will “flock’ to see the Cathedral and the ‘sensitively optimised heritage and cultural attractions’, whilst staying in the newly-provided ‘quality accommodation’. Major new ‘communities’ will have developed to the North, East and South of the City proper, and the inhabitants of those ‘new communities’ will all be leading fruitful lives in harmony with everyone else. To the East of Durham City, Seaham Harbour is lauded as a new generator for wealth and activity, with most of the new wealth coming from the ‘Marina and Harbour’, the only one in County Durham, and the visionary Centre for Creative Excellence. Peterlee is not forgotten, as the Plan states that it will have a ‘vibrant’ regionally important employment base and new rail access via the new rail station at Horden.

For the South of the County, the planners wax lyrical with the ‘strong success’ of Aycliffe Park and Amazon Park, and Hitachi shall be the home of train manufacturing in the UK. Bishop Auckland has not been forgotten, as it is described as having a consolidated retail centre and well-supports the ‘visitor experience’, what ever that may be. Newton Aycliffe and Spennymoor will no doubt be encouraged to learn they will have viable housing strategies, and Crook will still be the ‘gateway’ to the Durham Dales. The West of the County, Barnard Castle, Stanhope and Wolsingham will be delighted to learn that accessibility will have been improved, and broadband access will bring creative and service industries flocking to their environment.

All this will be achieved through ‘Sustainable Development’ and a ‘Spatial Approach’ (no, I don’t know what that means either!); but a big hint is in the choice, by these same Planners, of where and how the major new ‘Communities’ will be sited and built, and then bought by the future occupants of these ‘sustainably built’ and ‘spatially planned’ houses and estates.

The  Durham City Green Belt is proposed, under this Plan, to be de-registered and then raped, in three major areas. To the North of Durham City, a huge new development north of the Arnison Centre, a second huge estate complex surrounding  Sniperley to the North East, and a third, smaller housing development South of  Sherburn Road. The two afore-mentioned ‘relief roads’ shall funnel the extra traffic generated by the occupants of the new developments, mostly riding on public transport and fewer in those nasty, evil private cars, away from the main thoroughfares and trunk roads of Durham City proper, and all in this new-found ‘Garden of Eden’ will be so, so happy!

But the twist in this Planners’ plot comes along when the Plan reveals how all of this will be paid for. Because the bill will be immense! All the industrial parks, the new ‘relief roads’, access roads, sewerage, power lines and cables will have to be provided, but not by the County Council; because the Council doesn’t have any extra taxpayers’ cash of its own. Or does it? No, it will all be paid for by the Community Infrastructure Levy, which is just another name for yet another ‘Stealth Tax’ which states that every house, every shop, store or supermarket, every development within the list will have to shell out huge sums of money to fund these huge bills, and the end users of the houses would have to realise that the inflated prices being asked for these ‘sustainably and spatially’-built homes would be paying, through the veritable nose, for the privilege of living in one of these so-called ‘vibrant’ communities. Just to give you some idea of the range of charges under this Community Levy, the proposed Levy charges for new homes within the Green Belt land would be around £250.00 per square metre, for large retailers (supermarkets) the Levy would be around £400.00 per square metre, and for student accommodation the charge would be £50.00 per square metre. So if Tesco wanted to build another ‘Extra’ around the same size as the Dragonville site, they would have to shell out, on top of all the other building costs, 40,000 * £400.00, or some £16 million quid! The Council really want to attract new investment into County Durham!

So, in winding up this small diatribe, I would end with one piece of advice, and one comment. The advice is simple, grab yourself a long, cool gaze at this bureaucratic wet dream, and then make your objections, if any occur to you, known to the Council, either on the web-site, or by letter.

The comment is the truth that we, as a community, get exactly the Local Government we deserve. An Exhibition on the Plan were held at Framwellgate Moor on the afternoon and evening of Wednesday 23rd, and the room was thronged with interested people. A similar exhibition was held at the Laurel Avenue community centre in Gliesgate on the 24th, the  following Thursday, and only two people, one of whom was myself, signed in by 7 p.m.


Mike Cunningham