Plans for 250 new homes in Sunderland make another step forward as councillor says they had 'no choice' but to approve

Councillors have been left with “no choice” but to approve a major housing estate on Wearside despite traffic safety fears.

Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Thursday, 21st November 2019, 10:08 am

In 2016, Partner Construction Ltd won “outline permission” from the city council to build up to 250 homes on land in Silksworth.

The development, approved the following year, included the principle of housing and a vehicle access from Silksworth Road.

New developer, Persimmon Homes, recently stepped in to move the project forward.

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Land north of Silksworth Road, planned for 250 homes Picture: Google

The final hurdle included a “reserved matters” application for the estate which covers layout, appearance, landscaping and scale.

At a special meeting to decide the application on Friday, November 15, Sunderland City Council’s area development control sub-committee were reluctant to approve the plans.

Last month, councillors voted to stall the proposals over the location of some plots near adjacent Vicarage Close.

Following discussions with ward councillors, the developer agreed to reposition three plots – with two pushed back into the site away from neighbours.

However, fresh concerns were raised by Vicarage Close residents at the special meeting – namely about the impact of the estate on traffic safety.

Other fears included “overdevelopment” on green space, disruption during construction, the impact of traffic from other developments in the area and “out of date” traffic assessments.

Vicarage Close resident, Alan Emmerson, told the meeting: “I don’t have qualifications as a highways engineer, but I was employed by Durham and Northumbria Police for more than 30 years.

“Thirteen years of that was spent on traffic patrols dealing with serious vehicle accidents and if that [estate] entrance is going halfway down that bank in inclement weather, if people travel too fast, there will be accidents.

“To me, the council has a duty of care to look after residents, road users and other people, if someone is unfortunately killed or seriously hurt who is going to take responsibility?”

Although several councillors shared road safety fears, they were told the estate access was established under the previous outline planning application.

As a result, the committee had no powers to amend this decision under “reserved matters”.

Legal officers said the only way the vehicle access could be changed would be asking the developer to vary the outline permission – which could delay the project even further.

Planning officers added the site was a part of the council’s housing land supply and if the plans failed to come forward it could put pressure on other sites in the city.

With council planners recommending the scheme for approval and Persimmon Homes previously tweaking the layout , the meeting heard the council had a poor chance of winning an appeal and could be ordered to pay costs.

Silksworth ward councillor and sub-committee member, Patricia Smith, said she had raised concerns about the estate’s proposed vehicle access for years.

“From day one I said that road was dangerous, the pathways weren’t sufficient on either side, there had been lots of near misses and it was just a bad idea,”she said.

“What has been suggested to come out to try and make that right doesn’t make any difference from my point of view.

“Children and young people go to Farringdon School [along that road] from Silksworth and this is going to be a hazard.

“Fewer houses could have swayed my thinking but I couldn’t lend my support to something that I think would put people in danger.”

A representative from Persimmon Homes added that highways issues were not a matter for discussion under reserved matters, which applies to the site rather than its wider context.

But several councillors said they should not be bound to a decision taken by a planning committee three years ago.

Following legal advice, the sub-committee backed a motion to temporarily exclude the press, public and developer.

When the meeting reconvened, the reserved matters application was approved with a majority vote of 6 to 3.

Sub-committee chairman and Silksworth councillor, Phil Tye, has previously raised concerns about the housing estate.

This includes increased through traffic in the Silksworth area from developments in Doxford Park ward in recent years.

Speaking after the meeting, he said planning law restricted councillors from rejecting the reserved matters application.

“We had no choice but to approve it,” he said.

“It’s now up to the local councillors, with planning officers, to ask the developer to make a variation on the previous application from 2016 and to look at the highways issues.”