By Lizzie McBride
Plans to convert the former M&Co building on Silver Street into a block of nine student flats have been approved. The proposals include a one-storey extension to the existing structure, which has raised concerns due to the location in a conservation area – near a UNESCO world heritage site.
Seven objectors to the plans included the World Heritage site coordinator, members of the parish council, and the City of Durham Trust: all of whom raised concerns about damage to the conservation area and nearby heritage site.
A representative of the parish council, Liz Brown, stated that the council saw the plan as breaching policies to protect the conservation area and consisting of “over-development under the walls of the castle and cathedral.”
At the meeting, Brown warned: “Could I remind members that it wasn’t too long since Liverpool was stripped of its World Heritage status because of the cumulative and irreversible effect of unsympathetic development within its setting.
“A vote in favour of this application today puts us one step further to a similar fate in Durham. We must not allow this to happen.”
Durham planning officers asserted that the plans would be beneficial to the area. Ian Kettlewell, the agent for developers Metropolis Land and Property Developments Ltd, asserted to councillors that the proposals would “deliver a wide range of benefits” such as 185 jobs and £4.2m investment.
However, many remain unconvinced of the benefits of the project – especially with the context of a recent flurry of new student accommodation blocks, and the importance of the UNESCO world heritage site status for County Durham’s bid to be 2025 UK City of Culture.
Durham County Council is examining plans for private student accommodation on the site of the former Apollo Bingo Hall in Gilesgate and the 2017-2027 University Strategy includes the construction of 4-6 new colleges in the city.
Just on Silver Street, number 37-38 has already received approval for conversion into student flats and both 4-6 Silver Street and 12 Silver Street are under consideration for the upper floors be transformed into HMOs.
John Lowe, the Chair of the City of Durham Trust has stated that they continue “to be concerned about the number of applications for upper floor conversions along Silver St, Saddler St and Market Place. These remain uncoordinated for cumulative impact.”
In the meeting discussing the proposals, councillor Jonathan Elmer expressed his worries that it is the “cumulative impact of building after building after building” that might threaten World Heritage status.
“I’ve got to conclude that this is going to have a net negative impact on the heritage value of the city. I really think we should be listening hard to local people.”
Image: Beatrice Law