VILLAGE BLUEPRINT: Views are being sought on the Startforth Neighbourhood Plan at a series of public meetings
VILLAGE BLUEPRINT: Views are being sought on the Startforth Neighbourhood Plan at a series of public meetings

Villagers are being asked for their views on the neighbourhood plan for Startforth, a 114-page blueprint for the future that has been years in the making. Reporter Nicky Carter picked out some of the key pointsAN explosion in house building in Startforth in the past decade has almost doubled the population while community facilities have dwindled. Those are the stark facts highlighted in a blueprint aimed at giving the community a say in how the village is shaped in the future.

The 114-page Startforth Neighbourhood Plan has taken six years to prepare and focuses on issues of most value to residents in the parish – housing, green spaces, valued views and community infrastructure.

Put together by a team of volunteers, the draft plan has now been posted on the parish council’s website so members of the public can have their say on the document which will cover the period from 2023 to 2040. It states: “The plan will allow sustainable development that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising those of future generations.”

Covering approximately 407 hectares, the parish of Startforth derives its name from “street-ford” referring to the crossing of the River Tees by a Roman Road.

It is essentially a rural area stretching up the A67 to Pearson Moor, encompassing farm land and part of an ancient wood at Deepdale and along the banks of the River Tees towards Egglestone Abbey.

Within the parish, most of which is designated by Durham County Council as an area of high landscape value, there are four scheduled monuments, 26 listed structures and a conservation area that extends along and across the River Tees.

Historically, the plan states, the village of Startforth did not grow up around a village green but is made up of distinct residential areas that reflect the period of construction.

Expansion in the 20th century saw the infilling of land between Low Startforth and Bridge End and the construction of the security fenced complex of HMYOI Deerbolt.

Data extrapolated from the Office of National Statistics census returns highlights the significant increase in population over the last 12 years due to the construction of several large-scale housing developments on land formerly owned by the Ministry of Justice.

The plan states: “A comparison of the 2011 and 2021 census data and its extrapolation to 2023, shows that the parish has had a significant increase in its population.

“Excluding the occupants of HMYOI Deerbolt in 2011 there were 890 residents, this rose to 1020 in 2021 and 1420 by the end of 2023. This represents a 59.6 per cent increase.”

While residential housing increased, community facilities were depleted with the closure of the primary and junior school, two public houses and all village shops.

The plan highlights the need to retain the only two community facilities left in the village – Holy Trinity Parish Church and the repurposed Startforth Morritt Community Centre, formerly the village school.

“The community centre provides the weekly meeting place for many cultural, educational, social and physical activities by groups of various sizes and is the go-to place for village-wide community vents,” states the plan.

“The public consultation exercises emphasise the high value the local populations puts on being able to use the community centre.

“It is an asset that provides for their community needs and provides significant support to the mental and physical well-being of the residents of Startforth.

“The loss of either the community centre or parish church through re-development or a change of use would be detrimental to the social cohesion and health of the residents of Startforth.”

The plan’s vision for 2040 sets out five objectives to ensure Startforth has a thriving community that retains its own identity as an attractive rural village that has conserved its natural and historic characteristics.

It identifies a settlement boundary to ensure all new housing and other development is located within it and is of an appropriate scale and only provided to satisfy demonstrable local needs.

The plan also proposes that the village has community facilities that serve the needs of residents ensuring Startforth remains a great place to live and sustains the wellbeing of residents.

The first of three public consultations on the draft plan took place on Saturday at the Startforth’s community centre.

The remaining two consultation events, where there will be paper copies of the plan, will take place on January 27 and February 3 between 10am and 2pm at the community centre.