Heritage expert claims former coach park is of 'global importance' as Durham planning saga continues

The site of a former Durham City coach park could be considered of ‘global significance’, a government inspector has been told.

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 1:52 pm

Durham County Council (DCC) is attempting to strip the land of its protected ‘common land’ status, to make way for a car park serving its planned new £50million riverside HQ.

But opponents seeking to preserve the area, part of the wider Sands site, have attempted to argue it is integral to the city’s ranking as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“National importance, in this sort of understanding of it, relates to its role within the inner setting of the World Heritage Site,” said Michael Hurlow, a landscape architect and conservation expert who is also a City of Durham Trustee.

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How the site could look
How the site could look

“If you started to relate it fully to the inner setting, you might start to think about it being higher than [of national importance].”

He added: “It could be seen in support of something of global importance, and that’s how it would be viewed – cast in the reflection of [the World Heritage Site].”

Hurlow was speaking today (Tuesday, May 11), at the fourth day of a public inquiry into the county council’s application to strip the land, which makes up less than six per cent of the wider Sands site, of its ‘common land’ status.

Proceedings started on April 27, but were adjourned for the latest round of local elections, held on May 6.

Evidence submitted by DCC heritage assessor, Professor David Sparkes, and based on guidelines laid out by Historic England, claimed the land had ‘no heritage assets’ and that there was ‘no historical value to the site in its current form’.

Stephen Whale, a planning law specialist acting for DCC, insisted Prof Sparkes had used the ‘gold standard’ assessment in making his judgement.

Criticising Hurlow’s approach, he added: “Your approach is not a standard approach – it’s an approach which, in my 20 years of experience, I’ve only ever seen you deploy.”

After hearing evidence from further witnesses, including several who live nearby the site, the inquiry adjourned and is due to resume tomorrow (Wednesday, May 12), with further sessions scheduled for later this month (May 25).

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