An application to extend a student home in Durham sparked a debate on the city’s ‘studentification’ at a meeting of the County Council’s Area Planning Committee.
The owner of the house, situated on Whinney Hill, had put in a planning application to build a two-storey extension to the house to create two additional bedrooms. 45.5% of all properties in Whinney Hill are student houses.
Planning officers had recommended that the application be approved as a similar extension plan was accepted nearby in 2020. The application also highlighted that the extension would not affect the availability of housing in the city or wider area.
However, some members of Durham County Council believe that the plans went against Council policies to build a more “inclusive, mixed and balanced community” in the city.
Many argued that the new housing extensions would go against part of the County Durham plan which aims to deal with the issue of ‘studentification’ in the city. The City of Durham Parish Council, the City of Durham Trust, Whinney Hill Community group and a local resident all objected to the plan.
One of the main opponents was Councillor Jonathan Elmer. He said: “It’s going into an area where there’s already a high proportion of student-converted properties, thus impacting on the balance of that community, forcing permanent residents out and that sort of thing.
“It’s there [the policy] because everybody is so concerned about the impact of what they call ‘studentification’ of the city, the way it’s creating a very imbalanced age structure across the city and the impact on services, provision and anti-social behaviour and all that sort of thing. The entire purpose is to enable the creation of a more balanced community across Durham City”.
The Chairman of the Area and Planning Committee (Central and East), Councillor David Freedman, also argued for the plan to be refused on the basis of the plans going against the Council’s policy to achieve a better age balance in the city.
The debate over housing comes as prices for student homes in Durham have risen dramatically in the past year; the median rent price is now £120-£140 per week, with over 42% of properties costing over £140 a week. One landlord who spoke to Palatinate said while there are multiple factors behind the price increases, “the shortage of houses in Durham City Centre is also the major [reason] why they’re getting increased”.
This issue was recognised by Councillor Carl Marshall; “I’ve always had concerns about how the university develops in-keeping with the rest of the city (…)but they [students] need to live somewhere”
The property is among many houses in Durham which are being expanded to cater for the student population. These include a house in Claypath whose application to build a two-storey extension was accepted, despite being designated within the “conservation area of Durham City”.
Another property on Elvet Bridge also had its planning permission approved, despite the City of Durham Trust objecting on the basis that “the development proposals do not demonstrate that they will sustain the significance of a designated heritage asset”.
Similar concerns were raised around the conversion of a property on Silver Street to an House of Multiple Occupation. It was noted that had the property required the house to hold a multiple occupancy licence, its planning permissions would have failed as it would have required that all “habitable rooms should be provided with an area of clear glazing”, which could be “potentially harmful to an occupant’s mental health”.
Concerning the application, the City of Durham Trust said: “Generally, the trust is becoming increasingly dismayed at the wholesale change in use along the key historic city centre without a clear strategy.
“Allowing this to proceed application by application is to fail to look at the cumulative impact of the conversions for student accommodation and to mitigate against this and ensure at least minimum positive enhancement of the conservation area”. The application was eventually approved.
Councillors on the Area Planning Committee voted 7-5 to approve the plans to build the housing extension on Whinney Hill.
Image Credit: Beatrice Law