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Green belt planned to encircle Durham

The largest green belt in Britain for more than a decade could soon enclose the city of Durham - despite the misgivings of councillors who fear the impact on jobs.

Conservationists yesterday welcomed publication of a report they believe clinches a long campaign for a restricted area round the ancient university city.

While other seats of learning, such as Oxford, Cambridge and York, have their surrounding countryside protected, Durham has remained vulnerable because of an "old Labour" disdain for environmentalism. But now an independent panel under a chairman appointed by John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, has shaken Durham County Council by recommending a green belt stretching right across the north of the county and totally enclosing the city.

The results of the panel's painstaking examination of the Co Durham structure plan were presented to a council committee yesterday. Don Robson, leader of the council, said the magnitude of the proposal would need a lot of thought and discussion. "We need to ensure that any uncertainty does not adversely affect efforts to attract new employment."