By Martin Walker
An ambitious County Plan, which could see Aycliffe Business Park become the biggest industrial estate in the North-East, will take one step closer to sign-off this month.
Just over a week since the announcement of £10m-worth of Government funding to develop Merchant 2, a 48-hectare development adjacent to Hitachi Rail Europe’s train-building factory, the Government has appointed senior inspector Harold Stephens to oversee the public examination of the County Durham Plan, the economic blueprint for County Durham up to the year 2030.
The County Durham Plan is Durham County Council’s vision for the county’s future, setting out housing, transport and business developments to ensure the economic growth of the county.
As part of the plan, the local authority has earmarked a whopping 123 hectares of potential employment land in Newton Aycliffe that could be developed for industrial and retail space.
If delivered, it could make Aycliffe Business Park, currently home to 250 companies and about 8,500 employees, bigger than Team Valley in Gateshead, currently home to an estimated 700 companies and 20,000 people including the Metro Centre.
The plan also includes the building of 10,000 new homes in the South Durham area, 2,000 of which would be in Aycliffe, which would also significantly boost the town’s population.
A Pre-Hearing Meeting will take place on 31st July, which will see Mr Stephens set out the process for the Examination in Public, which will start on 30th September this year.
Following five rounds of exhaustive consultation with residents, businesses and other interested parties, the plan was submitted to the Government in April to begin examination.
Following the meeting in July, the council and other interested parties will be given the opportunity to provide further information about the issues raised before the public hearings begin.
The examination will then proceed into October with a series of meetings where groups and residents can have their say on specific aspects of the plan raised during the consultation.
Cllr Neil Foster, Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “The County Durham Plan aims to create a vibrant and prosperous County Durham where people want to live, work, invest and visit.
“We’re delighted that the next stage of the process has begun and look forward to the outcomes of the examination, which will set out the council’s future in terms of employment and new homes, as well as ensuring our community’s future is sustainable.”
As part of the process, programme officer, Jayne Knight, has been appointed. Independent of the council, Jayne will facilitate the day-to-day business of the examination.