By James Poole
A public meeting held in Durham Town Hall on Monday evening saw locals aim a stinging attack at Durham University over its treatment of the city and its residents.
The meeting, which was attended by over 100 people and chaired by Durham City MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods, was intended to discuss the council’s plans to convert the former County Hospital into student accommodation and revamp North Road by building a new bus station.
However, many residents took the opportunity to speak out against the “destruction” of the city by Durham University and the County Council, with one local describing the city as a “bloody mess”.
One woman broke down into tears, claiming that noisy students returning from nights out disturb her family several times a week, leaving her feeling “forced out of the city”. She even said that one drunken student attempted to break in to her house, thinking it was his.
Another resident, Kirsty Thomas, chair of St. Nicholas’ Community Forum, said:
“Trying to talk to University senior staff is like talking to a brick wall.”
This outcry from residents follows a Palatinate investigation into the ‘studentification’ of Durham from October 2013 that saw one local, Mike Costello, who lives in the Viaduct, tell Palatinate:
“I should have moved twenty years ago. There used to be vitality in this area but you have to have balance. These days on this road, there are only six permanent houses out of about twenty.”
Commenting at the time of the investigation, David Freeman, a City Councillor for Elvet and Gilesgate, added:
“Unfortunately Durham University now has a very poor reputation with many local residents because of its abject failure to plan properly for the increase in [student] numbers.”
The meeting also saw residents talk specifically about plans to develop the former County Hospital and build a new bus station on North Road.
Agents Signet Planning claimed that their proposed £17m development of the Hospital just off North Road would “tackle a shortfall in student accommodation and remove unsympathetic additions to the original Victorian building.”
However, Jackie Levitas, a resident on Waddington Street, insisted the firm were hoping to “bully their way through” and Roger Cornwell, chair of the Crossgate Community Partnership, accused the developers of being “deceitful”.
As the discussion turned to plans for North Road, Alderman Phil Stoddart said that Durham desperately needed a new bus station but, according to the Durham Times, many residents argued that the proposed design was “totally inappropriate”.
Roberta Blackman-Woods later posted a statement about the public meeting on her website, saying:
“The huge number of people who attended the meeting shows just how important these issues are to Durham residents and how vital it is for these developing sites in Durham to engage and work with residents and the local community.
“The public meeting was a good example of democracy in action in Durham and I wish to thank all those who attended and offered their views.”
A further public drop-in session and consultation will take place in mid-June to discuss the council’s proposed bus station whilst the County Hospital development is due to go before a council planning committee later this month.
Photograph: Rosaflor on Panoramio