A £28.5million rescue scheme to redevelop the former Lambton Lion Park has been approved – despite the site being part of the green belt.
Durham County Council’s planning committee granted permission for the scheme, which aims to turn the Lambton Estate into a tourism hot spot, creating 400 new homes and up to 525 jobs, subject to call-in by Whitehall.
The project is intended to help fund the conservation of the whole estate, with plans to turn Lambton Castle into a wedding venue, hotel or both.
Planning officer Colin Harding told the committee the National Planning Policy Framework banned development on green belt land ‘except in very special circumstances’.
“If very special circumstances cannot be demonstrated, then the application must be considered to be unacceptable,” he said.
The applicants had laid out details they believed constituted ‘very special circumstances,’ including opening up the grounds to the public, the economic benefits and the restoration of historic properties within the estate, including Lambton Castle itself.
We are fully committed to the delivery of public access. It is simply a matter of the nature and form of that access.Christopher Harrison
“The buildings are acknowledged as being at risk – Historic England has put some of them on its it ‘at risk’ register,” said Mr Harding.
“Engineers’ reports were carried out and the whole future of the castle is being called into question. There is significant instability here that needs correcting.”
It was down to the committee to decide whether the benefits of the scheme outweighed the need to protect the green belt from development.
A spokesman for the County Durham Local Access Forum told the meeting the plans did not go far enough. More than nine miles of pathways in the estate would be opened up under the proposals, but would not be established as public rights of way.
The plans have been submitted by the Trustees of Lord Durham’s 1989 Voluntary Settlement, which manages the estate on behalf of the Lambton family, and spokesman Christopher Harrison told the meeting the applicants were committed to opening up the grounds to the public but had to balance that with the need for ‘appropriate and practical management of the estate’.
“We are fully committed to the delivery of public access,” he said.
“It is simply a matter of the nature and form of that access.”
Coun Alan Shield said the pros of the schemes outweighed the cons: “I have not been a lover of building in the countryside but this has to be a balance.
“In this instance, the benefits, in particular the economic benefits, outweigh building on greenbelt land.”