Viewpoint: Stuart Timmiss

June 4, 2019

North East Times’ property writer Chris Dobson talks with Stuart Timmiss, head of development and housing at Durham County Council

The Durham County Council/Durham University ‘Summit’ earlier this year launched your new logo and strapline ‘Powered by People’, with the added message that you were ‘Building on Momentum’. What prompted you to hold such an upbeat event?

Powered by People came as a result of a number of meetings with a whole range of Durham businesses. When they saw the investment, developments and opportunities across Durham that are currently taking place, they felt we should be shouting louder about it and, indeed, they wanted to shout as well. Such is the sense of pride and community among our businesses they offered – if we gave them the assets – to take the message and tell others what a great place Durham is to do business. We’ve developed something that helps them, partners and the council promote Durham.

It also should provide opportunities to bring businesses together, develop networks, encourage collaboration and increases ambition across the county. It’s a very welcoming club that we want people to join.

More than 20 businesses, from the largest, Hitachi, to the smallest, Teesdale Cheesemakers, said that being part of it is making a difference to how they work and how their networks are developing. We launched it at the business summit at the start of the year, promoted it at MIPIM and were at Westminster in April. We’re finding that the scale of the opportunity has surprised a lot of people and they are now coming to us to find out more.

You refer to successes to date and what is planned for the future. What is the scale of investment proposed and how many jobs will be created?

Committed investment across the county is £3.4 billion, which we estimate will bring a further 100,000 jobs by 2024. It’s the range of opportunities, right across the county, that’s particularly exciting. Durham has the largest distribution centre in the UK about to start on site at Bowburn just off the A1. Agreement has been signed at Jade, Seaham, bringing significant new investment to the area and Forrest Park, Newton Aycliffe, is about to really take off – there’s so much potential. That’s before we even start to talk about our city centre, riverside, Durham University capital investments and Aykley Heads, which is a short walk from the station and the city. Aykley Heads alone will bring £350 million to our economy and up to 6000 jobs.

Is this just commercial property or is there a measure of residential development?

Everything I’ve talked about is commercial but you’re absolutely right to ask about residential development. We have exciting opportunities right across the county. A new garden village in Seaham will bring health innovation to how we meet the needs of our aging population. The Lambton Estate, near Chester-le-Street, brings the highest quality housing in a truly unique environment – not many folk could say that lions have wandered across their front lawn – and there are new residential opportunities in the city centre and across all our towns and villages. Our plan is for close to 26,000 new homes by 2035 of the right houses in the right place.

What are the key developments on site and proposed?

In Durham, Riverside Walk is ready for opening and Milburngate is now coming out of the ground. Aykley Heads has been described as potentially the most exciting development opportunity in the UK – and we hope to attract significant, exciting new businesses to the region. Across the county, we have Jade Business Park at Seaham; Integra 61 at Bowburn; Forrest Park at Newton Aycliffe; and NETPark at Sedgefield, which provides science, technology and engineering companies with world-class combined laboratory, clean room and office space. We’ve a staggering 305 hectares of land available for strategic and employment development, having already attracted more than 40 foreign investments over the past five years.

Durham University also has tremendous vision with huge investment planned by 2027. Clearly the city will be a hive of activity. What are its principal developments?

Durham University is making capital investments of £1 billion over the next ten years, which brings huge potential for the county and the region. The new Teaching and Learning building with state-of-the-art facilities and development of a Sports Park at Maiden Castle will be ready later this year. There’s two new colleges and student facilities at Mount Oswald and a new Mathematical and Computer Sciences building. In the longer term, there are plans for a game-changing new Business School building in the city centre and redevelopment of the Elvet Riverside buildings. The team at the university knows that students relish their time in Durham and they’re helping to support students who want to stay and set up enterprises of their own working closely with the council and business to capture many of the graduates who would have traditionally headed south.

As we know there is more to life than development irrespective of its scale and quality. What are the lifestyle attractions of the city and county as a whole?

When we speak to businesses who have moved here, set up here and are thriving here, we hear the same messages over and over again. It’s the quality of life, we have a heritage coast line to explore, miles of moors and countryside to enjoy, we can watch international cricket at the Riverside, we have space and freedom to move but can get to London in under three hours and Edinburgh in less than two-and-a-half. People who live here enjoy all that the culture of Durham has to offer – the Auckland Project, Beamish, the cathedral to name but a few attractions that has made Durham one of the fastest-growing visitor economies in the UK. Durham is going from strength-to-strength with so many exciting things to come, we have a wealth of cultural attractions, sporting events and beauty on our doorstep. What’s not to love?

Finally, how would you summarise your messages and, if you gave businesses an opportunity to voice their opinion of the benefits of living and working here, what do you think they would say?

We recently put together a film to show how Durham is Powered by People and what businesses think of being here. It blew us away when we watched it. I personally loved the bit with Allison Raper, co-owner of Teesdale Cheesemakers. In the film she says, ‘you know I think there’s a tiny part of us wanting to keep it quiet because we’re really loving it’. Durham is all about the people, the opportunities, the support and the quality of life.

Durham County Council

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