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Viaduct Court (County Hospital) Development, Stuome.com

Viaduct Court (County Hospital) Development

January 2014

Development of the old County Hospital site (Viaduct Court and New Hall) to provide accommodation for 440 students and a collegiate environment.

At the start of 2014 a planning application was made to Durham County Council regarding redevelopment of the old County Durham Hospital site on North Road (just past the Viaduct). Despite the planning permission not yet being approved, and a number of stages still to come, the rooms are already being sold as "The Village @ The Viaduct". The application was made by Signet Planning on behalf of Peverill Securities. Sladen Estates provided the accommodation management plan, referring to it as "New Hall" and "Viaduct Court". Part of the application included a market research document from Savills, and a chart "where students live" which had Durham included in an area of the chart marked as already having a high provision of student accommodation.

The main hospital building was constructed in 1850 as the result of a public campaign and donations, and a large 3-storey building was later added to the south in the late 1930s. None of the buildings are listed, but the site is within Durham City Centre Conservation area and owls can often be heard in the surrounding woods. The hospital provided mental health care and the proximity to Durham's 30 metre-high viaduct was sadly used too frequently. The hospital was replaced by a larger and modern Lanchester Road site further out of the city (beyond the North Durham University Hospital), and this County Hospital site has been vacant since 2010.

The Proposed Development

A number of out buildings will be demolished, leaving the main Victorian Hospital building to be extended and converted into 73 student studios. A new building will be constructed around the edge of the site to contain 367 beds with associated communal living spaces. The site will have a reception office staffed 24 hours a day. The staff will include an on-site House Manager and a Support Management Team "which is responsible for the development of a collegiate environment, pastoral care and Hall discipline".

The application claims accommodation will be provided for 440, which equates to 73 sharing a bed. It aims to cater predominately for for post graduate students, so as to work with the university strategy of increasing the number of PhD students in the next 10 years. Accommodation contracts will be 48-51 weeks long, accounting for postgraduates preferring to stay in Durham to finish research, but not accounting for variability of extended PhD timelines.

Buildings to be demolished include Rushyford Wing, an operating theatre, a circular lounge building, and the doctors' accommodation.

The original building will have 47 studio flats, with 73 in a three storey extension. The studio flats will be en-suites. The main block will include a "social learning space"

The new block around the South and West sides of the will have 7 levels divided into 3 blocks and a student hub facility on the first floor. The 65 "cluster flats" will each contain 4-7 single en-suite rooms and a shared kitchen lounge. The building will include a coin-operated washing and drying machines for residents.

Outside The Buildings

Car parking will be limited to staff and visitors only, but comprehensive cycle storage (40 spaces) will be provided. Occupants will not be entitled to local resident parking permits as council policy is to not supply them for developments post-2000. The management claims that all cleaning and office staff will travel to the site by public transport, bicycle, or on foot, though it's unclear who will use the assigned "Manager's Space". It's thought there will be 3 disabled parking spaces and 4 visitor spaces. Unlike the Dragonville development, it expects move-ins to be staggered at the start of term, yet still parents will be offered a 20 minute time slot to drop off bags.

A yet-to-be-decided budget will be provided for art on the site, and evergreen trees will be added to the Southern boundary to maintain a screen from the public road.

As the buildings have deteriorated while out of use, there are a number of access holes that couldn't be surveyed due to asbestos and the risk of roosts being present was considered moderate to high. An external survey concluded six common pipistrelle bat roosts were supported by the site which including at least two in building extensions. Passes from soprano pipistrelle and noctule, brown long-eared and Myotis bats were also recorded. A number of environmental concerns from the development were noted, including the loss of the bat roosting sites and an increased disturbance on the Flass Vale Nature Reserve. A low risk of harm to badgers and birds, and a loss to the hedgehog population was mentioned in reports. It is suggested loft areas of the Victorian building be left vacant for the bats to occupy.

A bird survey reported tawny owls likely to be breeding on the site and the potential for kestrels to be using the site for breeding and hunting. A vast number of other birds were recorded present on the site or likely to be there, including finches, song thrushes, tits, and jackdaws. It was considered the site supports up to 13 species of conversation concern, 7 being listed as UK BAP species.

A public consultation and viewing of plans was held on the site in September 2013. Crossgate Community Partnership expressed considerations for the heritage of the site, landscaping, and it's proximity to Flassvale Wildlife Reserve. There were concerns over the proliferation of student accommodation, but retaining the Victorian hospital building and bring it back into use were appreciated. Local residents desired the frontage of the main building to be viewable from the public path at the front.

Thoughts from Stuome.com

The planners have involved local residents with this site that is in need of returning to a use with the Victorian building in view for the public to enjoy. Student accommodation seems a suitable purpose and will be especially good given the proximity of the town centre and the railway station. The large ad tall accommodation block is of some concern to the character of the area. The management proposals make many references to being a college, however the site doesn't seem to have enough communal space and so would struggle to provide that a college offers. If the County Durham Hospital site is to become part of the much-loved Durham University collegiate system then this is most likely to come in the form of additional accommodation to an existing college. The college in question will have to work hard and make careful decisions to avoid a divide between college sites such as those the St Cuthberts Society faces between Parsons Field and The Bailey. However, the university finds having another multi-site college may normalise the setup and improve the situation for both St Cuthberts Society students and the college that makes use of the hospital site.

This report was published at Stuome.com on 20th Janurary 2014.