Widely-opposed plans for a new housing estate on Sunderland’s seafront have been given the go ahead by councillors.
In 2017, Sunderland University announced plans to sell a parcel of land off South Bents Avenue, Seaburn, to generate cash.
After finding a developer, Miller Homes, a full planning application was submitted for 64 houses with a mixture of four and five bedrooms.
As plans developed, public opposition grew with around 500 objections raising fears about drainage, traffic and loss of green space.
Other comments, listed in a council report, questioned the legality of the development and argued it was “motivated solely by profit”.
On Tuesday, Sunderland City Council’s Planning and Highways Committee approved the plans after more than two hours of discussion.
The decision was met with boos and cries of “shame” from the public gallery, with around 30 people attending.
However, the final say still rests with the Secretary of State due to the application being called in by a member of the public.
As part of the development, an area of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) will be introduced on council-owned land south of the development site.
The SANG was agreed by cabinet earlier this month, subject to the housing plans being approved, and will see Sunderland University provide the council with a “one-off premium payment” for the land, a report states.
While Sport England objected to the SANG, its response could only be afforded “limited weight” by planners as the site had not been used as a playing field for more than 10 years.
Planning officer, Vicky Rising, presenting her report at Sunderland Civic Centre, said the development was classed as sustainable and complied with policies around highway safety, drainage and ecology.
The meeting heard that green space lost under the plans would not be replaced and mitigated by “upgrading” remaining land.
This includes Miller Homes agreeing to pay funds to the council as part of a section 106 agreement to account for the impact of the housing.
The £1million sum is split into several areas from boosting education in north Sunderland and providing seven affordable homes elsewhere in the city, to land maintenance and extra dog bins.
But Fulwell councillor, Bob Francis, questioned whether his ward would lose out from more than £200,000 of education funding under these plans.
At the meeting, concerns were also raised by Coun Niall Hodson about the council having to foot the bill for extra signage for the estate alongside the impact of a 64 homes on the character of the area.
“I’m a little concerned reading the report in front of us, it doesn’t seem to acknowledge that South Bents is a distinctive area that people who are from there say they’re from South Bents, not Seaburn or Fulwell,” he said.
“What does come across in the objections are the fields adjoining South Bents are part of the character of the area that makes it appealing to residents and are used by the residents.”
He added that the new homes, in combination with other housing developments to the south, would start to “merge South Bents into Seaburn”.
The development site was originally transferred from Sunderland City Council to Sunderland Polytechnic, now Sunderland University, under the Education Reform Act in 1998.
Despite planners recommending the plans for approval, several objectors weren’t convinced.
One objector accused the council’s cabinet of predetermining the application by agreeing the SANG without without wider public consultation.
And calls were also made to look at the development in conjunction with planning consent for the 279 houses nearby from council-backed Siglion.
South Bents resident, Kathleen Thompson, claimed the housing site was historically “gifted to the people of Sunderland” by Sir Hedworth Williamson for recreational purposes.
If approved, she argued, the space would be lost with the risk of Seaburn being transformed into a “huge housing estate”.
Objector Bob Latimer also raised concerns about existing issues with “seriously flawed” sewage systems in the area.
This followed a recent calls by the European Commission to reopen legal proceedings against the UK Government to tackle water treatment issues in the Sunderland area.
The campaigner said that almost 300,000 tonnes of untreated sewage was discharged from Whitburn in just eight months last year, with the potential for the case to go back to the European Court of Justice.
“Will the new houseowners enjoy seeing this on the beach,” he added, “I ask the council to think of the environment and safety of the Sunderland people and reject this planning application until a full independent inquiry is held into the sewage system in Sunderland.”
However, a Northumbrian Water boss stressed there were no issues expected with sewage from the estate with flows not discharging direct to the sea.
The meeting heard that £10 million had recently been invested in sewage network improvements – including the Whitburn and Roker area -and that European legal proceedings were not relevant to the planning application.
Concerns were also raised about a temporary haul road created for construction works with 20 and 30 vehicle movements a day expected for the first six months of works.
They included public safety on playing fields and construction traffic making risky manoeuvres to access or emerge onto the A183 coast road.
Fulwell councillor Margaret Beck added extra traffic created from the estate could create “turmoil” in the area, especially during major events such as the Sunderland International Airshow.
Planning officers stated the historical use of the land was a civil matter between residents and Sunderland University and if traffic issues from the haul road were an issue, it could be removed.
An agent for Miller Homes, also stated the plans aimed to increase economic growth by providing new executive homes alongside improving the quality of green space in the area.
Since the original application, the number of homes has fallen by almost half, from 140 to 64.
Following discussion, councillors voted through the application with 10 in favour and 3 against.
The plans are subject to a construction plan which will aim to manage and monitor any potential disruption during planned works.
Agreed Section 106 payments include.
Upgrading existing open space: £27,629.10
Tree planting, waste bins, footpaths and maintenance on greenspace to the south of the site.
Strategic access management and monitoring measures: £172,576
To provide funding towards a warden
Installation and maintenance of two dog waste bins: £17,155
Affordable housing (7 units off site) : £508,500
£72,642.86 per property to be spent in Seaburn, Fulwell, Roker and St Peter’s areas.
Fund primary, secondary or special education in north Sunderland
Upgrade and/or maintenance of off site play equipment: £44, 864
Maintenance and upgrade to the skatepark to the south of the application site
Caption: 64-homes planned for land off South Bents Avenue Seaburn Picture: Google
Caption: View from South Bents Avenue, Picture: Google
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service