Get DURHAM County Council SANDS HQ plans decided by the Secretary of State

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Durham County Council intends to build itself a new HQ in Durham city by the riverside with a cathedral view. The proposal is contentious and has prompted a record number of objections. Concerns include road access, congestion, parking, air pollution, and safety; Durham’s World Heritage Site (which would suffer a ‘large’ and ‘adverse’ impact according to the World Heritage Site co-ordinator); effects on tourism and businesses; environmental issues; building on a floodplain; and accessibility of the site, especially for the disabled. We the undersigned do not have faith that Durham County Council’s approval of the planning application was objective, open, and transparent. It is a matter of national importance that decision-making by public bodies must be objective, open, and transparent, and must be seen to be so (the Nolan Principle). This is decidedly not the case here. We therefore urge the Secretary of State to call this planning application in for his own determination.  The planning application is for a new HQ for Durham County Council on a site chosen by the County Council to a specification set by the County Council and shaped by intensive discussion with the planning officers of the County Council. Therefore it is very difficult to believe that the County Council’s planning committee could have reached an objective and unbiased decision. Moreover, at the Full County Council meeting held on 20th February a resolution was put that ‘Council calls upon Cabinet to suspend activity for and building of the new HQ at the Sands, Durham’. All 54 County Councillors who voted against the resolution are from a single political party (Labour). It seems evident that they were ‘whipped’ on a motion directly concerning the planning application. They included the Chair and six other members of the County Planning Committee. Therefore it is almost impossible to believe that these members of the Planning Committee could have had an open mind when on 5th March they voted to approve the planning application (while all opposition councillors on the planning committee voted against it). Also some observers reported that the first Councillor to speak moved the motion to support apparently by reading out a pre-prepared script. Finally, Richard Buxton Solicitors, acting for the city of Durham parish council, had advised Durham County Council that approving the application on the basis of the information before it would be ‘unlawful’. And Vectos, a transport consultant employed by the City of Durham Parish Council, had concluded that there were significant omissions from the traffic and air pollution analysis provided in support of the application, as well as concerns about its methodology and conclusions. In other words, as noted by Richard Buxton Solicitors, ‘there is a real risk that the Council will bring the planning system as a whole into disrepute’. Therefore the final decision on this planning application should be made by the Secretary of State. Please sign to ask the Secretary of State to call this application in.