Construction is under way on Durham County Council’s major mixed use development on the banks of the River Wear creating a range of office, retail, leisure and residential spaces.
As part of the original planning permission, a signalised junction was planned to serve the access to the planned residential development within the site, off Framwellgate Peth.
However, project developer Tolent recently started work to amend the junction and applied to the county council to vary the planning permission.
This included changing the conditions of the original permission to remove reference to signalisation and to agree detailed designs for the junction.
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A ‘left in, left out’ priority arrangement and a ‘splitter island’ in the centre of the junction were proposed to help prevent right hand turns into and out of the development while providing a safety refuge for cyclists and pedestrians who are crossing.
The proposals were discussed at a formal hearing of the council’s County Planning Committee earlier this week (April 6), which was held via videolink and broadcast on YouTube.
Councillors heard Durham County Council highways chiefs had concerns about the existing capacity on the road network and the proposed signalised junction creating large queues – factors which prompted the redesign.
Meanwhile, developers confirmed work had started early to take advantage of low traffic levels during Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
During consultation, the plans sparked five letters in opposition and objections from City of Durham Parish Council and the City of Durham Trust.
Some critics raised concerns about the lack of physical measures to prevent right hand turns at Milburngate and said similar signage at Highgate, on the opposite side of the road, had been ignored by motorists in the past.
Alternatives to signage, including a physical barrier or bollards to prevent right turns into and out of the development, were proposed.
The parish council also raised safety issues with the “narrow” shared use pavement at Framwellgate Peth and supported the City of Durham Trust’s proposals to separate pedestrians from cyclists along a section of the road.
But John McGargill, the council’s highways development manager, said the proposed junction was the “safest option” available.
Responding to objectors, he said there had been no major accidents in the last five years on the stretch of Framwellgate Peth and that the traffic signs prohibiting right turns would be enforceable by the police.
Highways officers said they would monitor the situation and if there was a problem with Milburngate residents making right turns in future, action could be taken.
They added proposals of a ‘raised table’ at the junction, giving priority to cyclists and pedestrians to cross , could increase the risk of accidents as cars ‘unexpectedly stop’ to turn left into Milburngate.
Councillor Mark Wilkes suggested an option of reducing the speed limit on the road and putting in an appropriate crossing point to make it “safe for everybody.”
He also called for the application to be deferred, pending further discussion with the applicant, to look at whether there is a suitable alternative.
However his proposal was defeated by a vote.
Councillors were told that the shared footway at Framwellgate Peth formed part of the original Milburngate planning permission, and was not up for debate at the meeting.
Although councillor John Clare urged the developer to look at the City of Durham Trust’s suggestions in future, he supported the applications to vary the planning permission.
He added he was prepared to accept the opinion of highways chiefs that the junction was “safe enough.”
A motion to approve the junction design, in line with a council planning officer’s recommendation, was approved with four votes for and three against.