Building on momentum

April 2, 2019

The recent Durham County Council/Durham University summit at the Radisson Blu, Durham City, was a rare insight into the direction of a North East local authority and one of the world’s top universities, writes Chris Dobson

Statistically it was hard not to be impressed with a total of £3.4 billion planned investment for County Durham with 100,000 more jobs to be created by 2024. There are 305 hectares of land available for strategic and general employment development and 25,992 new homes are to be built by 2035.

Examples of projects include the £370 million Aykley Heads, Durham City, planned investment with the potential creation of 6000 private sector jobs and circa 200,000 sq ft of grade A office planned for Milburngate (pictured), enabling work well underway, and the Fram Well office development close to the city’s railway station. Added to this is Durham University’s strategy that represents an investment of close to £1 billion over the 10-year period, which includes £350 million for phase one and phase two of the estate developments programme.

If this is indicative of the future, what about current facts and figures? Well 40 multinationals have invested and reinvested in the county in the last three years. The county’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Durham Cathedral and Castle and the Geopark, North Pennines – led the way in promoting tourism which saw 19.71 million people visit the county in 2017, up by 2.4 per cent on 2016, spending £866.71 million, up by 4.9 per cent on 2016.

The university’s master plan would see the student population grow by 4000 students and create 750 new jobs, as well as improving the infrastructure and environment of its estate.

Described as “an exciting time to be part of Durham University”, the 10-year strategy will deliver facilities for staff and students as well as improving digital capabilities and physical infrastructure. This will “deliver world-class research, education and wider student experience” and to achieve this, the University needs a world-class estate.

As part of the Durham University Strategy, 2017-2027, academic programmes and colleges are being relocated from Queen’s Campus in Stockton to Durham City, student numbers are growing to a maximum of 21,500 by 2027 and 50 per cent of students will live in collegiate accommodation.

To help meet these objectives, the university will establish four to six new colleges, and the Ustinov College community of postgraduate students is relocating from Howlands to the purpose-built Sheraton Park development, which provides more than 400 high-quality self-catered bedrooms and benefits from the full college experience, including dedicated pastoral support, scholarly and research activities and access to social and sporting facilities, in a supportive and motivating environment.

In all, the university has outlined 23 projects for the first and second phases of its strategy. Examples of the proposed schemes include its triple accredited top 50 European Business School, which would move from Mill Hill Lane to be at the heart of Durham City on Elvet Waterside.

If this £70m project goes ahead it will ensure an enhanced experience and increased accessibility to the riverside. It will also create a public record of site archaeology and heritage. It will also create a world-class learning experience for students, deliver cutting-edge research and enable the staging of events and conferences raising the profile of the university, school, city and region around the world.

This international profile raising will enhance the school’s competitive position supporting the attraction of diverse high-calibre students, academics and staff, as well as increase business connectivity and collaboration globally.

Project consultants would be DPP, Ryder Architecture, Gardiner and Theobald.

Another project would see the creation of a Sports Park. The aim is to deliver a wider student experience to rival anywhere in the world, and both sport and physical activity are important parts of this. The delivery of new facilities will allow the university to compete sustainably at the highest levels of British University Sport and will also support increasing overall levels of student, staff and local community participation in sport and physical activity.

The Sports Park, with direct links to Durham City, will deliver an extensive refurbishment and redevelopment of the existing internal and external sporting facilities at Maiden Castle, together with construction of a new sports complex. The facilities will include state-of-the-art sports laboratories which will facilitate the transfer of elements of the Sport, Exercise and Physical Activity undergraduate degree programme and underpin the successful development of this department.

Project partners would be DPP, Galliford Try, Faulkner Brown, Turner & Townsend.

So two proactive partners committed to driving forward both city and county – surely some changes in messaging? The summit launched a new logo with a key message – Durham, Powered by People – as a change in perception to build on the momentum.

Research shows the county’s people are “robust, resilient and proud,” an “unappreciated resource,” where there is “lo and longevity of workforce”. Indeed “the key is the people…it’s an optimistic place”.

As a campaign for the county, this is an opportunity for it to stand out from the rest of the region. The aim is “to put Durham back on the map with the national and international business community and build awareness of what the county has to offer”.

For those still smarting at the failed North East Combined Authority, the aim to differentiate the county from the rest of the North East may irritate some but without doubt this summit made it clear that there is a co-ordinated effort and a collective voice at work.

By encouraging every business to engage and improve collaboration the result could be a magnification of effect and impact. In turn this will inspire businesses to broaden their horizons, facilitate growth and improvement and develop a stronger entrepreneurial spirit and start-up culture.

After all, Durham is powered by people.