Theme 2(a): A Beautiful and Historic City – Heritage


4.30 Durham City’s local heritage will be conserved and enhanced for the cultural benefit and health and well-being of present and future generations.


4.31 The objectives of this theme are:

  1. To sustain, conserve, and wherever possible enhance, the site and setting of the Durham Cathedral and Castle World Heritage Site;
  2. To conserve and enhance the Conservation Areas and their setting by sensitive and well-designed development that:
    1. balances conflicting needs with emphasis on avoiding diluting the distinctive character of the locality;
    2. sustains and increases their social, economic and environmental vitality;
    3. avoids the cumulative impact of schemes which dominate either by their size, massing or uniformity;
  3. To uphold high standards of sympathetic, distinctive, and innovative design;
  4. To conserve heritage assets;
  5. To protect and enhance public spaces within the City as settings for Heritage assets.


4.32 The historic City and its setting is the quality for which Durham is universally known and loved and is the key stewardship issue for its local authorities and its residents. The importance of the heritage aspect has been recognised by the designation of the Cathedral and Castle as a World Heritage Site and the designation of the Durham City Conservation Area and the Burn Hall Conservation Area. They form the focus of the heritage aspect of this theme. The green setting of the World Heritage Site and the Conservation Areas are part of their charm and this is covered in the Green Infrastructure Theme 2b.

4.33 Protection is also afforded by the designation of World Heritage Site, the Green Belt, the Conservation Areas and designated heritage assets including listed buildings and scheduled monuments. There are also non-designated sites (notable unlisted assets) of historic, architectural, aesthetic and social interests in which the City is hugely endowed, and which are identified in Durham County Council’s character appraisal of the City (Durham County Council, 2016b) as notable unlisted buildings.

4.34 Historic England’s National Heritage List for England gives details of the designated heritage assets in Our Neighbourhood and a summary is available in Table D2 in Appendix D. Appendix B gives a list of non-designated heritage assets in Our Neighbourhood which is derived from Durham City Conservation Area Character Area documents (Durham County Council, 2016b), and the monitoring and updating of this list is included as an initiative in the companion document ‘Looking Forwards: Durham as a Creative and Sustainable City’.


4.35 This justification refers to the Heritage theme as a whole. Additional, specific justification for each heritage policy is given with the policy itself.

4.36 The remarkable heritage values of Durham City belong to everyone and justify conservation now and in the future. To conserve the City’s outstanding heritage and to promote good design of new development is strongly supported by local people in response to the Forum’s public consultation and the study of young people’s views (Durham City Neighbourhood Planning Forum, 2015, 2016a).

4.37 The Government promotes the conservation of the historic environment and heritage in the NPPF (para. 8, 20(d), and Chapter 16, and associated PPG ‘Historic environment’) and in the white papers ‘Heritage Protection for the 21st Century’ (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2007) and ‘The Culture White Paper (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2016). The NPPF (para. 184) recognises that heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource that should be conserved “in a manner appropriate to their significance, so that they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of this and future generations”. The Culture White Paper states that “Our historic built environment is a unique asset and local communities will be supported to make the most of the buildings they cherish.” (p.36). Historic England, the public body looking after England’s historic environment, provides much guidance with the aim of championing and protecting historic places. It notes in its planning guidance that “Heritage can play a part in delivering all three elements of sustainable development.” (Historic England, Conservation principles, policies and guidance).

4.38 As well as the national and international designation of the Cathedral and Castle as a World Heritage Site (Durham World Heritage Site, 2017), the value of Durham’s heritage is acknowledged by the designation of the Durham City Conservation Area (Durham County Council, 2016b) and the Burn Hall Conservation Area within Our Neighbourhood, and the adjacent Shincliffe and Sunderland Bridge Conservations Areas. The Sustainable Communities Strategy for County Durham 2014-2030 (County Durham Partnership, 2014) includes the objectives to promote sustainable design and protect Durham’s heritage. Numerous saved policies from the City of Durham Local Plan are relevant, designating assets, determining what type of development is permissible and promoting good design (E3,4,5,5A,6,21,22,23,24,25; H13; Q4,8,9,10,11,12; U2). 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 heritage of Our Neighbourhood (a subset of the Durham City area covered by the Masterplan), i.e. making the most of the historic core – in partnership with Durham University, the Durham Business Improvement District, event planners, hotels, to increase visitor numbers and ensure care of historic buildings. Completed projects include the renovation of Wharton Park.

4.39 Historic England’s high level principles emphasise the importance of place: “Understanding the significance of places is vital. Significant places should be managed to sustain their values.” (Historic England, Conservation principles, policies and guidance). The Culture White Paper (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2016) calls for partnerships “to develop the role of culture in place-making.” (p.34) Locally, the North East Culture Partnership has set up the ‘Case for Culture’ Project for cultural development focusing on the arts and heritage. The requirement to seek a balance between innovative new development which enhances the historic environment and the conservation of medieval routes and landmarks is of great importance for ensuring that Durham City retains its sense of place and authenticity.

Planning Policies and Proposals for Land Use

4.40 The policies related to this theme are:

  • Policy H1: Protection and Enhancement of the World Heritage Site
  • Policy H2: The Conservation Areas
  • Policy H3: Our Neighbourhood Outside the Conservation Areas

4.41 These policies relate to the heritage assets in Our Neighbourhood, covering the World Heritage Site, the Conservation Areas and designated and non-designated assets. The NPPF (currently the February 2019 version) details how to determine development proposals that affect heritage assets, e.g. in para 193 to 197:

When considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation (and the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be). This is irrespective of whether any potential harm amounts to substantial harm, total loss or less than substantial harm to its significance.

Any harm to, or loss of, the significance of a designated heritage asset (from its alteration or destruction, or from development within its setting), should require clear and convincing justification. Substantial harm to or loss of:
a) grade II listed buildings, or grade II registered parks or gardens, should be exceptional;
b) assets of the highest significance, notably scheduled monuments, protected wreck sites, registered battlefields, grade I and II* listed buildings, grade I and II* registered parks and gardens, and World Heritage Sites, should be wholly

Where a proposed development will lead to substantial harm to (or total loss of significance of) a designated heritage asset, local planning authorities should refuse consent, unless it can be demonstrated that the substantial harm or total loss is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh that harm or loss, or all of the following apply:
a) the nature of the heritage asset prevents all reasonable uses of the site; and
b) no viable use of the heritage asset itself can be found in the medium term through appropriate marketing that will enable its conservation; and
c) conservation by grant-funding or some form of not for profit, charitable or public ownership is demonstrably not possible; and
d) the harm or loss is outweighed by the benefit of bringing the site back into use.

Where a development proposal will lead to less than substantial harm to the significance of a designated heritage asset, this harm should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal including, where appropriate, securing its optimum viable use.

The effect of an application on the significance of a non-designated heritage asset should be taken into account in determining the application. In weighing applications that directly or indirectly affect non-designated heritage assets, a balanced judgement will be required having regard to the scale of any harm or loss and the significance of the heritage asset.

Next section: Policy H1: Protection and Enhancement of the World Heritage Site

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