Theme 3: A City With a Diverse and Resilient Economy

4.3.1 Vision and Objectives



A sustainable and vibrant local economy, supporting large and small businesses, retail and tourism, and encouraging employment opportunities.



  1. To increase employment opportunities through the establishment and support of large and small enterprises;
  2. To identify strategic and local sites for a range of prestige developments for businesses, university research-based and high technology industries, and business incubators;
  3. To secure the vitality and competitiveness of the City centre through balanced retail development and to combine City centre retail with online shopping;
  4. To build on and enhance the tourism and leisure experience in the City.

4.3.2 Context

4.90 Durham City extends beyond Our Neighbourhood to include large residential, industrial and retail estates at Belmont, Framwelgate Moor and Newton Hall. Taken together, the built-up area of Durham City has a residential population of about 46,000 and is the biggest town in County Durham. It is the ‘County town’ and provides the administrative headquarters of the County Council, the main hospital, the magnificent Norman Cathedral and the world-class University, as well as business services, retailing, culture, leisure and recreation – the vast majority of these located within the City centre, the heart of Our Neighbourhood. Durham City is also an important tourist venue for the County and the country.

4.91 The main employers are Durham University with over 8,000 jobs, Durham County Council with 2,000 jobs, University Hospital of North Durham sharing the major part of 7,000 jobs in the Foundation Trust’s area, and Government offices with over 700 jobs. A reliance on four major public sector employers creates an economic imbalance, which is unhealthy and needs to be addressed. The role of Durham City as the ‘county town’ within County Durham is reflected in the 80 offices of estate agents, solicitors, accountants and related professional services. Office space is limited in the centre of town, and most of it is in Georgian and Victorian buildings. The retail sector amounts to some 1,000 full-time equivalent jobs and provides vibrancy and a relatively good retail offering, but with few independent retailers. There is a limited lunchtime economy (concentrated in the immediate City centre, with more minimal provision in the outer areas of the City centre) supported by the presence of major offices and of students, and a very significant night-time economy drawing people into Durham City from other parts of County Durham and beyond.

4.92 The level of economic activity of the residents of Our Neighbourhood is affected by the presence of students, and to a lesser extent by the higher proportion of retired people than in County Durham as a whole. The dominant occupations of the residents in Our Neighbourhood who are in employment are education, health and social services and retail and wholesale. The role of Durham City as a major centre for the whole County means that most of the people who work in the City live outside Our Neighbourhood and indeed outside Durham City itself.

4.93 There are three state primary schools, two state secondary schools, a special school and a Sixth Form Centre in Our Neighbourhood, all with good or outstanding ratings by Ofsted. Capacity issues affect several of the primary schools, and at least one of the secondary schools is customarily over-subscribed. There are also three private schools, offering education from nursery to secondary level.

4.94 The University is a member of the Russell Group and provides world-class scholarship and research. It is the third oldest University in England. Vocational skills are provided by the high quality establishments of New College Durham (just outside Our Neighbourhood) and East Durham College, Houghall Campus (offering agriculture, arboriculture and forestry, horticulture and animal care courses). The University is a key part of the Our Neighbourhood and very important to the economy and cultural life of Durham City and Durham County. The proposed expansion of the University (Durham University, 2016, 2017a) will have a significant impact on the economy of Our Neighbourhood. However, Our Neighbourhood is more than the University and this expansion needs to be balanced and proportionate so that the needs of the wider community are considered and the special character of Our Neighbourhood is maintained.

4.95 Details of economic activity and educational attainment is given in section D1 of Appendix D. In Appendix E, Table E3 lists public and community services and facilities in Our Neighbourhood and Table E4 lists employers and educational establishments.

4.3.3 Justification

4.96 This justification refers to the Economy theme as a whole. Additional, specific justification for an individual policy is given with the policy itself.

4.97 The Forum’s priority survey (Durham City Neighbourhood Planning Forum, 2015) identified that local people valued the friendly, lively, vibrant, multi-cultural feel of the City and the shops (particularly the Market Place and indoor market), coffee shops, pubs and restaurants. However, problems were identified, e.g.: a poor retail offer; poor appearance / maintenance of premises and streetscape; poor pedestrian experience; a night-time economy too geared to drinking; poor parking provision; the lack of a tourist information centre. What was needed included: an increased diversity of retail outlets; reduced business rates/rents; upgrading of areas in the City (particularly North Road, Bus Station, Market Place, Riverside); improved provision for pedestrians; improved parking provision; promotion of and support for tourism (e.g. a Tourist Information Office); more entertainment, community, leisure, and cultural facilities.

4.98 In the Forum’s survey of the views of young people (Durham City Neighbourhood Planning Forum, 2016a), their suggestions for action included: improve the Bus Station; improve the streetscape of North road, particularly shop fronts; more parking and increase the Park & Ride spaces and operating hours; more events, indoor activities and community facilities for young people; shops more attractive to young people. The older respondents who were school leavers were concerned by the lack of employment opportunities in Durham City. They also felt that the choice of jobs in the City is limited. They would like a wider choice of permanent jobs to choose from and more part-time jobs to be made available to young people, particularly in the proposed new entertainment venues in the City.

4.99 The survey of businesses (Durham City Neighbourhood Planning Forum, 2016c) identified the following things that would improve the development of their business: improved parking (free or cheaper; extension of Park & Ride days and hours); better information and signposting; lower rents and rates; fast broadband fibre connectivity.

4.100 The National Planning Policy Framework supports economic growth through the planning system. Section 1 of the NPPF – Building a strong, competitive economy (para 18 to 22) – states that local authorities should: set out a clear economic vision and strategy for their area which positively and proactively encourages sustainable economic growth; set criteria or identify sites for local and inward investment to meet anticipated needs over the plan period; and support existing business sectors, and identify and plan for new or emerging sectors likely to locate in their area. Our Neighbourhood is an important provider of jobs for the wider County and beyond, as well as for local residents.

4.101 Section 2 of the NPPF – Ensuring the vitality of town centres (para 23 to 27) – states that local authorities should: recognise town centres as the heart of their communities and pursue policies to support their viability and vitality; allocate a range of suitable sites to meet the scale and type of retail, leisure, commercial, office, tourism, cultural, community and residential development needed in town centres. Durham City centre is a significant retail and service centre for a wide catchment area and gives economic support for the heritage assets in Our Neighbourhood; its future economic success is vital. The County Durham Plan Issues and Options consultation document (Durham County Council, 2016c; p.35, paras 4.23 to 4.25) notes the economic challenges facing town centres, e.g.: a change in consumer behaviour and the rise in e-commerce, mobile technology and Internet shopping; out of town retail centres (although more recently there has been a growth in smaller and more local convenience and discount stores). Town centres need to reflect the needs and opportunities of the communities that they serve.

4.102 The Green Paper ‘Building our industrial strategy’ (UK Government, 2017) Proposes a range of areas of interventions which the evidence shows drive growth. Places with higher rates of investment in research and development, more highly skilled people, better infrastructure, more affordable energy and higher rates of capital investment are places which, the Green Paper asserts, grow faster and have higher levels of productivity. Policies on trade, procurement and sectors are tools to drive growth by increasing competition and encouraging innovation and investment. Through Central Government actions and by strengthening the local institutions that support a more productive economy it is hoped to ensure that growth is driven across the whole country. In Our Neighbourhood, provision for research and technology development by harnessing the strengths of Durham University and New College Durham is essential. It will also be important to cater for innovation through incubator facilities so that ideas can be transformed into advanced processes and products.

4.103 The North East Strategic Economic Plan (North East Local Enterprise Partnership, 2014) builds on the strategic location of the North East, between Scotland and the wider north of England economy: it is well connected to the rest of the UK, Europe and the rest of the world by rail, sea, road and air. The strategic plan is to deliver 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024. The growth opportunities are: Tech North East – driving a digital surge; making the North East’s future in automotive and medicines advanced manufacturing; Health Quest North East meaning innovation in health and life sciences; and Energy North East- excellence in subsea, offshore and energy technology. The Strategy recognises the three areas of the service economy for growth are: financial, professional and business services; transport logistics; and education. This is a high level strategy which applies to the whole North East region. In Our Neighbourhood there are opportunities for these distinctive streams of new employment, ranging from confirmation of the prestige strategic employment site at Aykley Heads through various kinds of bespoke units to innovation spin-out incubators, and of the particular requirements of the health and academic sectors.

4.104 The Sustainable Communities Strategy for County Durham 2014-2030 (County Durham Partnership, 2014) has a theme ‘Altogether wealthier’, with the aims of a thriving Durham City, vibrant and successful towns, sustainable neighbourhoods and rural communities, competitive and successful people, and a top location for business.

4.105 The County Durham Green Infrastructure Strategy (Durham County Council, 2012b) marries economic activity with support for the green infrastructure, e.g. by addressing inequalities in the quality of living environments, supporting industries which depend upon green infrastructure; using the green infrastructure as an asset to improve the image of areas, attract inward investment and provide ecosystem services. Green infrastructure is can be beneficial for the economy of Our Neighbourhood, particularly as a tourist attraction related to the City’s heritage.

4.106 The Durham City Regeneration Masterplan (Durham County Council, 2014c) and its update (Durham County Council, 2016f) have a number of implementation projects and actions relevant to the economy of Our Neighbourhood (a subset of the Durham City area covered by the Masterplan), i.e. Business growth – the potential for more and better jobs through regeneration at Aykley Heads, Freemans Reach, North Road, The Gates and Lower Claypath. The Masterplan update notes what has been delivered and outlines key future activities. Completed projects include new developments in the City Centre and the running of successful major events. For Our Neighbourhood it is important that sustainable economic growth utilises, supports and enhances the historic environment of Durham City.

4.107 The saved policies from the Durham City Local Plan include references to a Science Park at Mountjoy, a Business Park at Aykley Heads and office and retail development in the City centre (City of Durham Council, 2004; Durham County Council, 2015a: EMP2, EMP4, EMP12, S2A). A number of these policies have been incorporated into the policies below.

4.3.4 Planning Policies and Proposals for Land Use


Next section: Policy E1: Larger Employment Sites

One Response to Theme 3: A City With a Diverse and Resilient Economy

  1. Lucy says:

    Your statement below (taken from 4.94) is important. Many Durham City residents worry that Durham is more like a university campus than a city with a university attached. Any initiatives to redress the balance are welcome.

    The University is a key part of the Our Neighbourhood and very important to the economy and cultural life of Durham City and Durham County. The proposed expansion of the University (Durham University, 2016, 2017a) will have a significant impact on the economy of Our Neighbourhood. However, Our Neighbourhood is more than the University and this expansion needs to be balanced and proportionate so that the needs of the wider community are considered and the special character of Our Neighbourhood is maintained.