Plans to build a major sports complex on green belt land at Maiden Castle have been strongly opposed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Durham University is proposing to massively extend its existing facilities along green belt land bordering the A177 approach road into Durham City.

Works include a large two-storey, and in places three-storey building, to house tennis courts and other sports facilities as well as office spaces and the doubling of car parking, including coach car parking, to cope with the development.

If it gets the go-ahead the sports complex’s ‘footprint’ will rise from 4,772 square metres of existing buildings, up to 16,398 square metres – a trebling of size.

The University has accepted the development would be detrimental to the green belt but  sees the move as a positive one, creating new facilities which it hopes will be of great benefit to students.

But CPRE Durham, while appreciating the importance of the University to the City of Durham, insists that preservation of an environmentally sensitive area next to the Durham City and Shincliffe Conservation Areas is more important.

Richard Cowen, chair of Durham CPRE said: “We are objecting to this proposal on numerous grounds.

“It is not “sustainable development”, it is inappropriate development in the Green Belt and it would significantly and detrimentally affects the openness of the green belt.”

Durham University is arguing that the development should be permitted because it falls under “very special circumstances” – suggesting the back of various sports bodies, community benefits and the value of having many sports facilities on one site, should be considered.

But Mr Cowen said: “While we would welcome the University providing a top class sporting facility – and no doubt the Council is of the same opinion – we do question whether it has to be all on one site when others may be available where the environmental impact would be considerably less.

“In our view, insufficient reasons have been given to show there are “very special circumstances” in this case to allow the harming of the setting of nationally important heritage assets as well as two conservation areas.

“We would also suggest there are other sites that, with a positive outlook from all parties, would be suitable for this development.

“The current application at Maiden Castle runs contrary to numerous policies in the City of Durham Local Plan and should be refused.

“We acknowledge that this is a matter of planning judgment but the potential damage to the green belt and to the setting of heritage assets in this case is so great, especially when other sites appear to be available,  that it should not be exercised to override the development plan.”

  • Durham City Neighbourhood Planning Forum has also objected to the proposal.