Play centre plans near Sunderland park approved despite green belt concerns

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Plans to build a preschool play centre near Sunderland’s West Park have been given the go ahead.

Earlier this year, the new owners of the Herrington Gate Lodge, off Durham Road, applied to Sunderland City Council to convert an existing outbuilding.

This included two single-storey extensions with a vision of opening a play centre for under fives.

However, planning officers argued that the plans would impact on green belt land.

While development into the green belt can be granted in “special circumstances”, they called for the plans to be refused, stating applicants failed to provide evidence to pass this test.

In October however, applicants called on councillors to think again noting the public support for the play centre and lack of similar facilities in the area.

As a result,the plans were put on hold to allow councillors to visit the site.

On their return to Sunderland City Council’s south development control sub-committee this week (November 26), the debate continued around the consequences of building on the green belt land.

This followed a recent campaign to protect West Park from development which led to council bosses removing the green belt site from their draft local plan.

Applicant and former teacher Sarah English, speaking at Sunderland Civic Centre,  stressed the play centre business would provide a welcoming atmosphere for children and their families.

Since the last meeting, she explained, she had received positive feedback from members of the’ Friends of West Park’ Facebook group.

“When you talk about ‘Save West Park’ this is very different and the benefits to the community completely outweigh what we class as harm,” she told councillors.

“The feeling of the community actually coming together for something that is positive is lovely and I just hope that you can see the positives in that as well.”

Several councillors praised the positives of the scheme including access to the green belt for younger generations, local support and the opportunity to support private businesses.

Following discussion, councillors backed the plans, voting against officers recommendations for refusal.

They argued the extension plans were “proportionate” noting the building would be built on a gravel drive and would not harm any trees.

Deputy council leader, Michael Mordey, added that local councillors often receive criticism for “not listening” but that the application “seemed to have genuine community support”

“I think as councillors we should support the public where we can,” he added.

In response to a question from Coun Michael Dixon, the meeting heard the plans would not set any future precedent for development on the green belt land.

For more information on the plans, visit: sunderland.gov.uk/online-applications and search planning ref 18/00474/FUL 

PIC: Herrington Gate Lodge (pictured) off Durham Road. The owners of the building have won a bid to convert a outbuilding into a play centre for young children.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service