Not many Durham university students venture out to the far edge of Gilesgate Moor. It's a place outside the student bubble, a place not marked on the university map, where strange beasts may lie. It's a place known as Dragonville. However things may change, as plans for 350 student digs have now been approved by Durham County Council Planning Committee.
The residence will be on the corner of Renny Street and Dragon Lane. Within sight of the 24 hour Tescos and just round the corner from a KFC, Pizza Hut, and indoor karting centre. It's only 5 minutes from town on the bus, and a pleasant walk into the city centre through the woodlands of Old Durham is also possible. The planning application declared it's target market to be forth-year students and postgraduates, who should be willing to live a little further out and will enjoy reduced stress by avoiding the housemate-finding game.
The development will comprise of one long 4-storey building split into almost 30 flats that accommodate 5 or 6 people, a management office, and the all important bar/lounge. Three smaller buildings will include more hall-like layouts, with as many as 11 bedrooms per floor and no communal lounge facilities. All the bedrooms will be en-suite to match the modern student's inability to follow a cleaning rota.
A walled garden for residents was also included in the plans. A noise survey recorded levels of 45-58 dB during the day, however at 5:02 am in the morning Tesco delivery lorries caused levels up to 77 dB to be recorded at the proposed site.
The residence is not intending to be an additional college to the network, but along with various management, garden, and security staff it also proposed employing student wardens that will provide additional assistance out of hours. Besides the bar, facilities will also include a common room, group study rooms, a laundry, and retail intentions. Social events, room inspections, and even beloved fire drills will take place.
Parking was mentioned as a critical factor with the planning officer stating 15% of students bring cars with them. There will be 18-25 car parking spaces and 176 bicycle parking space behind the gated community, plus 2 visitor spaces outside the bar.
The building of this project will take approximately 70 weeks and employ 170 people during construction.
Earlier plans had targeted much more upmarket residents and a business work hub/centre. The land regeneration marketing material included phrases such as “A jewel in the Gilesgate Crown” and “vibrant, living dynamo for Gilesgate”.
Naturally objections to the development existed. Belmont Parish Council cited many traffic concerns and concluded the project was too large and unsuitably placed. One Peel Avenue resident preferred the site be left for industrial purposes, citing a 2012 report that labelled the site “locally important”, concluding that this further student housing “was unnecessary and should be denied”. In total, 15 neighbours sent in comments to the council, with at least 5 of those being firmly-stated opposition and a petition of 96 signatories. In addition, trustees from The City of Durham Trust also objected and called for a policy to be established in conjunction with the University.
Supporting the student dwelling, the Old Cinema Laundrette wrote to the planners describing “the area particularly around the large Tesco is 'unloved' and in need of significant improvement”. They were hopeful of more students living in Gilesgate as a result and had many pleasantries to state. “I would suggest that locals and students live harmoniously together and the university students are very much a part of the City and outlying areas future. We believe student life enriches the community and certainly at Old Cinema Launderette we have very good relations with students”. County councillors Pat Conway, Mike Dixon, and Grenville Holland supported the application, taking it as a solution to stop students filling city centre homes. Criticism were made of Durham University during the meeting, with accusations of “throwing bombs into the air and leaving us to sort it out”. The Northern Echo were on the scene to quickly report a unanimous approval of the project.
When built, this development will quickly change the landscape of students renting in young people. It will force students to gain a much-needed perspective on housing in Durham by both making them consider locations further afield and showing them there is very much an excess of properties to rent. The local residents shouldn't fear about issues that are likely to come from the residents choosing to live here and should follow the lead of The Old Cinema Launderette in welcoming university members as fellow neighbours that enrich the community.
With the large nature of the site, organised social events, and variety of staff, it may seem very close to being a college. Confusion may come about from this, or a new unofficial college may formed and a dilution of college loyalties/identity take place through the residents.
We're yet to see exactly how everything will turn out but eagerly await the first students moving in come September 2015. The years following will come to tell the true impact.
This report was published at Stuome.com on 4th December 2013.