Labour collapse won't influence Sands planning inquiry, hearing told

Political upheaval will not have an effect yet on an attempt to build a car park on protected land in Durham City.

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 12:33 pm

Durham County Council (DCC) is seeking to remove the ‘common land’ status from a section of the Sands site as part of its wider development of a new £50million riverside HQ.

But following the loss of the Labour Party’s controlling majority on the local authority at the weekend, opponents of the scheme have suggested it could now be scrapped.

“With regard to the change in the political landscape, we have quite a different situation in Durham city now,” said James Cowan, a former RAF officer, giving evidence to a public inquiry on the county council’s common land application.

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Labour has lost control of Durham County Council.

“The Labour council is much reduced on the county council, the political landscape has changed and it may be that the new administration has a different view, with regard to the common land.

“It may be that the new administration would prefer the common land to be used for social benefits, such as a coach Park.”

Cowan was speaking yesterday (Tuesday, May 11), on the fourth day of the public inquiry being conducted by a government-appointed inspector.

Labour, which has controlled DCC in various forms for about a century, lost 16 councillors and with them its majority control of the council chamber following local elections on May 6, although it remains the single largest party.

It is currently unclear what this could mean for the future of the Sands site, a former coach park, under consideration, as well as the development of the new HQ and future control of the local authority.

But Edward Cousins, the inspector leading the assessment of the common land proposals, insisted the process could not be influenced by changes in political control which, at the time, were yet to be confirmed.

He said: “The fact there’s been a political change in Durham, in relation to the makeup of the county council, is not a consideration for this inquiry.

“The evidence we’re looking at is the evidence as it is now – not the evidence it might be in some future meeting, when a decision has been made by future committees of the newly formed administration.”

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