Theme 3: A City With a Diverse and Resilient Economy – 2019 version


4.111 Durham City will have a sustainable and vibrant local economy supporting a wide range of employment in large and small businesses in all sectors including retail and tourism.


4.112 The objectives of this theme are:

  1. To increase employment opportunities through the establishment and support of large and small enterprises;
  2. To support the development of strategic and local sites ranging from prestige developments for businesses, university research-based and high technology industries to business incubators and local start-ups;
  3. To secure the vitality and competitiveness of the City centre through balanced retail development including responding to the development of e-commerce;
  4. To build on and enhance the tourism and leisure experience in the City.

4.113 Durham City extends beyond Our Neighbourhood to include large residential, industrial and retail estates at Belmont, Framwellgate Moor, Meadowfield 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 a fine University, as well as business services, retailing, culture, leisure and recreation – the majority of which are located within the City centre, the heart of Our Neighbourhood. Durham City is also an important destination for tourists from home and abroad.

4.114 The largest and most important employer is Durham University with over 4,000 jobs. In addition, Durham County Council provides 2,000 jobs, the University Hospital of North Durham is where the major part of 7,000 jobs in the Foundation Trust’s area are located, and Government offices contribute over 700 jobs. A job market based on four major public sector employers is too narrow and needs to be widened. As county town, the City is home to 80 offices comprising 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. The lunchtime economy (concentrated in the immediate City centre, with more minimal provision in the outer areas of the City centre) is supported by the presence of office workers and of students, and is more limited than the evening economy. The evening economy draws people into Durham City from other parts of County Durham and beyond. However with the redevelopment of The Gates and the Milburngate sites there should be a greater variety of entertainment attractions for families and children.

4.115 The City’s economy is significantly influenced by the large student population and its part-time presence, and to a lesser extent by the high proportion of resident retired people. Education, health, social services, retail and wholesale sectors provide most of the employment for local residents. A large number of the employees working in Our Neighbourhood commute from the rest of Durham City and beyond. (see para. 4.130)

4.116 The three state primary schools, two state secondary schools, the special school, and Sixth Form Centre in Our Neighbourhood, have good or outstanding ratings by Ofsted. Lack of capacity affects several of the primary schools, and at least one of the secondary schools is over-subscribed. There are also three private schools, offering education from nursery to secondary level.

4.117 The University, the third oldest university in England, is a member of the Russell Group and is recognised for world-class scholarship and research. High quality vocational skills are provided by 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’s contribution to the economy and cultural life of Durham City and County Durham is of great importance. It is essential, however, that the drive for growth (Durham University, 2016, 2016a) is associated with fairness and engagement with the local community, and is proportionate and demonstrates a clear understanding and respect for the capacity and infrastructure and special character of Our Neighbourhood to host such developments.

4.118 Details of economic activity and educational attainment is given in the population section of Appendix C. In Appendix D, Table D3 lists public and community services and facilities in Our Neighbourhood and Table D4 lists employers and educational establishments.


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

4.120 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; an evening 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, Lower Claypath, 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.

4.121 In the Forum’s study 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.

4.122 The questionnaire study of businesses (Durham City Neighbourhood Planning Forum, 2016b) identified the following 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.

4.123 The NPPF supports economic growth through the planning system. Chapter 6, Building a strong, competitive economy, (para. 81) states that planning policies should:

set out a clear economic vision and strategy which positively and proactively encourages sustainable economic growth … set criteria, or identify strategic sites, for local and inward investment … and to meet anticipated needs over the plan period … seek to address potential barriers to investment, such as inadequate infrastructure, services or housing, or a poor environment … be flexible enough to accommodate needs not anticipated in the plan, allow for new and flexible working practices

Our Neighbourhood is an important provider of jobs for the wider County and beyond, as well as for local residents. In a sensitive setting such as exists in Durham City, it is vital that the level of economic growth aspiration is compatible with the needs and expectations of local people in providing jobs and protecting, enhancing and improving the heritage for now and future generations.

4.124 Chapter 7 of the NPPF ‘Ensuring the vitality of town centres’ states that planning policies should support the viability and vitality of town centres which are the heart of local communities. Policies should allow the growth and diversification of town centres by allocating a range of suitable sites to meet the scale and type of economic development needed now and in the future: retail, leisure, commercial, office, tourism, cultural, community and residential development. 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 emerging County Durham Local Plan 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.

4.125 The Green Paper ‘Building our industrial strategy’ (UK Government, 2017) proposes a range 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 and the creation of businesses offering employment opportunities to graduates who might otherwise be lost to the region.

4.126 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 advanced manufacturing in the automotive and medicines sectors; Health Quest North East – innovation in health and life sciences; and Energy North East- excellence in sub-sea, 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 entire 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.

4.127 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.

4.128 The County Durham Green Infrastructure Strategy (Durham County Council, 2012a) 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 can be beneficial for the economy of Our Neighbourhood, particularly as a tourist attraction related to the City’s heritage.

4.129 The Durham City Regeneration Masterplan (Durham County Council, 2014) and its update (Durham County Council, 2016c) have a number of implementation projects and actions relevant to the economy of Our Neighbourhood. Business growth and greater employment opportunities will be driven by the regeneration of sites across the City at Aykley Heads, Freemans Reach, North Road including the upgrading of the bus station. The Gates, Milburngate and Lower Claypath. The updated Masterplan focuses on what has been delivered and outlines key future activities. It highlights completed projects including new developments in the City Centre and the successful organisation of major events and entertainments. For Our Neighbourhood it is important that sustainable economic growth utilises, supports and enhances the unique historic environment of Durham City.

4.130 Townsend (2017) provides a summary of employment data for Our Neighbourhood, based on the 2011 Census and 2016 employment data. The main points are:

  • an ‘out-of-term-time’ economically active population (aged 16 to 74) of 4,800 (50% of the total)
    • 47% of these work in Our Neighbourhood, the rest commute outside
  • 21,000 employee jobs in our Neighbourhood
    • 38% of these are part-time (less than 30 hours per week)
    • 66% of these are in public services
    • more ‘white collar’ jobs than the national average
    • a loss of 12.5% of jobs between 2007 and 2016

Townsend (2017) concludes that: “the Constituency/former City as a whole is a natural ‘growth point’ of the County relative to the surrounding areas a whole, but this description does not apply to the NPA area [Our Neighbourhood].”

4.131 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 (EMP2, EMP4, EMP12, S2A).

Planning Policies and Proposals for Land Use

4.132 The policies related to this theme are:

Next section: Policy E1: Larger Employment Sites

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