Durham County Council are currently examining plans to build private student accommodation on the site of Apollo Bingo Hall in Gilesgate. The bingo hall, located on Sherburn Road in Gilesgate, is closing down, and the owners have decided to sell the site for proposed student development.
The Council has opened the application to comments and has received multiple objections from residents. A campaign led by ACORN, a community union, has expressed concern about the plans:
“The proposed plans involve the repurposing of a leisure space – which has been enjoyed for over 80 years – from communal to exclusive use.
“There has been little to no consultation with local residents by developers regarding these plans. This development is not supported by the local community who lament the lack of affordable housing for themselves and their children, the decades-long removal of community spaces in the city, and their lack of influence on such matters.”
Mary Foy, Member of Parliament for the City of Durham, wrote an open letter regarding the proposed plans.
“Such a development is completely incongruous with the wider setting in which it is proposed and is not in keeping with the surrounding area.”
“It is hard to see how the loss of the bingo hall is anything but a loss to the community. I hope that planning permission for this wholly unsuitable development is refused.”
Local residents have commented on the plans on the Durham County Council website. One Gilesgate resident objected, saying that “as years go by, it will be such a loss to the architectural history of Durham.”
ACORN suggested that the proposals would also not be of benefit to students, arguing that “most of the affiliated and private student residences are prohibitively expensive for many students.”
Mary Foy also highlighted similar issues of unnaffordability: “It is extremely disappointing that an application has come forward that is not only unsuitable for the local community, but it is also unsuitable for the student population it is intended to attract.”
Another resident, a postgraduate student, noted that “the development has not been designed with student health and wellbeing in mind. There are no green spaces or places to relax outside, the bedrooms are tiny, and the communal space is insufficient.”
“I am thoroughly disgusted with how time after time the needs of the local community are ridden roughshod over,” said one Gilesgate resident as an objection on the Durham County Council website.
ACORN told Palatinate that the demolition would exasperate tensions between the local and university communities: “There are undeniably some tensions both between students and non-students, and between local and non-local students. This isn’t likely to be resolved while shops, leisure centres, and other buildings in Durham are increasingly converted from spaces that can be used by all, to those for the exclusive use of students.”
“Both students and non-students could benefit from the provision of decent, dignified, and affordable housing and leisure spaces that are open to all.”
The Belmont Parish Council has raised a formal objection to the plans on the basis that they do not appear to meet the criteria set by Durham County Council regarding Purpose-Build Student Accommodation. These criteria include demonstrating a need for accommodation in the area, appropriate consultation with Durham University, and limiting the negative impact on local residents and the area. The City of Durham Trust and the Gilesgate Residents’ Association have also raised objections.
Others have provided supportive statements on the application. A local business manager expressed that the plans “will bring much-needed regeneration to the area and to local businesses including my own”.
Similarly, one resident stated that he would “highly recommend this application for approval due to the benefits of the local community and local businesses”, while another resident expressed that the bingo hall site “has been a local eyesore for long enough, and desperately needs renovation and a facelift”.
Geoff Paul, Durham County Council’s interim head of development and housing said in response to critique: “When assessing applications for any new development, we liaise closely with all relevant stakeholders and infrastructure providers to ensure the impact of development is properly considered. We will also give careful consideration to all points raised by members of the public.”
GW Architectural, the firm that produced the plans, did not respond to a request for comment.
Image: Mark Norton