Proposals to build a 1,500-home village in Seaham have been given the green light despite fears millions of tonnes of mineral deposits could be lost.
Earlier this year, North East firm Tolent submitted an application for the ‘South Seaham Garden Village’, off the A182 at Dawdon.
Plans include shops, land for a new primary school, an ‘innovation hub’ for research and business space and a health and wellbeing centre.
When complete, the site will offer 50 per cent affordable housing, 300 homes for over 55s and a new road through the village with direct links to Seaham, Dalton Park and the wider area.
While Durham County Council officers recommended the plans for approval, they admitted they would breach certain policies as the site covers a mineral consultation area.
And the authority’s County Planning Committee, sitting at Durham County Hall on November 6, heard home-building on the site could sterilise high-grade dolomite in the ground.
Rolling Stock and Engineering Co Ltd (RSEC) – who own mineral rights on both the homes site and wider site – said the area was one of only five plots in the UK with high levels of “high-grade” minerals.
A representative for the firm, speaking at Durham County Hall, said the housing development could lead to 171 million tonnes of the material being lost.
While Tolent is the landowner, developer and contractor for the project, the meeting heard the firm could take legal action in future, if needed, to protect its land interests.
Building materials firm, Tarmac, also raised concerns about the resource – which is used in several industries – and the potential impact on the nearby Hawthorn Quarry.
Professor Roy Sandbach of Newcastle University argued the plans would help tackle national challenges of an aging population which have a “significant impact on our social fabric”.
In the North East, he said this would equate to 100,000 people being more than 85 years old by 2035.
Tolent chairman, John Wood, also stressed the economic benefits and millions of pounds set to be channeled into the area through a Section 106 agreement with the council.
“It’s a classic example of a redistribution of wealth that will provide good homes for everyone,” he said.
“I think it’s a unique opportunity for this to be an exemplar development with national significance that Durham can be proud of.”
While the council’s planning committee approved the plans, concerns around sustainability and loss of minerals split the vote – with eight members in favour and four against.
Coun Mark Wilkes, who voted against the plans, raised concerns about the development “locking away” the mineral deposits and questioned the development’s eco-credentials, including whether it would provide “zero-carbon homes”.
“It’s exciting bringing forward proposals which will bring forward a lot of affordable housing. If we bring forward those proposals. It has to be sustainable in itself aswell,” he said.
Coun Audrey Laing said the affordable homes would help families and elderly people who had been “priced out” of market housing in the area.
While Coun Fraser Tinsley also noted scale of the development which would provide a new settlement housing up to 4,000 people.
“My personal view is that overall it’s on balance a situation where we should go and override the conditions,” he added.
The plot was previously approved as the site of a multi-million pound Centre for Creative Excellence film studio, which failed to materialise.
The construction of the garden village is expected to take more than 10 years over four phases -with three of the four phases expected to start before 2020.
More than half of the site will be managed green space including park land, a football pitch, a bowling green, play areas and allotments, linked by a network paths and cycleways.
The development is expected to create 960 new jobs, including 500 new construction jobs, 300 in the centre of the village and 160 off-site.
A Section 106 agreement between the developer and the council is also expected to see Tolent pay nearly £4million to Durham County Council.
This will be split between:
Providing secondary education facilities: £2,353,356
Coastal management mitigation: £988,470
Hawthorn Dene – Site of Special Scientific Interest: £104,000
Sports provision in Seaham: £550,000
As an outline application, further details of design can be brought back to council planners for further approval.
Updated planning conditions, agreed by councillors, include minimising impact on the operation of the nearby quarry and the new primary school being occupied after the 350th home is built.
Caption: Artist impressions of what new homes on the South Seaham Garden Village could look like
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service