Student Housing and Letting Agents 

In late 2022, Mary was shocked to hear reports of students queueing overnight to access accommodation for their second year of university. As the bulk of students live out of college after year one, and numbers of students had increased due to the pandemic, there was a real fear amongst the student population that they may be left without a room if they didn’t access one straight away. This led to many students camping outside lettings agents in the city, in the winter months simply to ensure they had somewhere to live the following year.  

To ensure this wasn’t repeated, Mary reached to letting agents, Durham Students Union and Durham University to try and discover the causes of this panic, as well as setting plans in place to reassure students that they would have access to accommodation in the future. 

So, in early 2023, along with Durham University, Mary convened a meeting with letting agents to discuss the introduction of a code of practice that would ensure that the release of properties is more managed in future. Letting agents will be asked to hold properties until later in the academic year, so students are more familiar with their new city, and are comfortable in their friendship groups; to allow a reasonable amount of time for students to complete the paperwork, and with an eye to introducing certain standards of property that will be let. 

This plan is backed by the Students’ Union, with the aim of giving a ‘seal of approval; from the union and the university to letting agents who sign up to the scheme. Work is now ongoing to create the code of practice, with a more long-term aim to roll this out further to individual landlords. 

You can read more about the first meeting to discuss a code of practice here: 

Healthy High Streets

In the summer of 2022, Mary ran her healthy high streets campaign, asking residents and visitors to the city what they would like to see to make Durham a more attractive city.  

Through an in-person and online survey, Mary received hundreds of responses that highlighted the popularity of Durham’s independent retailers, the lack of accessible facilities, public toilets and baby changing facilities and the limited hours of the Park and Ride Service. 

Following her campaign, Mary presented this information to Durham County Council with a series of asks: 

  • More support for independent businesses, through tapered business rates support 
  • More council owned and operated public toilets and baby changing facilities in the city centre 
  • Extended hours for the park and ride service, catering for those visiting the theatre or cinema, or shift workers returning home in the evening. 

Subsequent to this, Mary met with the council leadership, who had reviewed the data and are looking into introducing some of the measures that residents and visitors suggested. Mary will continue to liaise with the council on these and push for more action on making Durham the best it can be for both residents and visitors. 

Road Safety

After being contacted by Parish Councils in Shincliffe and Croxdale and Hett, and local residents in Merryoaks and Lowes Barn Bank, Mary launched her campaign to make their roads safer. 

In both Shincliffe and Croxdale, residents and councillors have complained that speed limits are too high, with numerous accidents taking place in Shincliffe, and heavy wagons and buses passing through the small village of Croxdale. Residents living on Lowes Barn Bank are having to live with more HGV traffic using their small C-Class road than almost every B road in the county, and have requested a weight limit on the road to divert heavy goods traffic to other more suitable roads leading to nearby industrial estates. 

Highways safety is an issue for Durham County Council and, following meetings with the Parish Councils and residents in Shincliffe, Croxdale and Lowes Barn Bank, Mary contacted the leadership of the council and the highways department, in conjunction with County Councillors, Parish Councils, schools and residents groups. Despite this, the County Council refused to take action to make these streets safer. 

Since then, Mary has enlisted the Labour Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen to assist with the campaign, and has brought all three areas together to form one campaign group. The first meeting of the group took place in June 2023, and will be meeting regularly to discuss the next steps in the campaign, and the work that they can do collectively to highlight the risks on the roads that run through their communities. 

Mary will continue working with these groups to challenge the decisions of the council, and press the need for highways works to keep the streets safe for residents, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users. 

You can read about the inaugural meeting of the road safety campaign group here: 

Clear the Wear 

Following contact from a huge number of constituents, including school children, as well as tourists expressing their dismay at the state of the River Wear, Mary commenced a campaign to pressure Durham County Council to seek the relevant permissions for work to be carried out to clear the river of unsightly debris. 
Following Mary’s successful campaign, which involved meeting with the Environment Agency, writing to Natural England and the government; as well as responding to criticism from a County Councillor – the appropriate licences were issued to the local authority and work was carried out to remove vast amounts of vegetation, rubbish – all while safely preserving the habitat of local wildlife, including otters! 
Since the campaign Mary organised a large litter pick to clear the riverbanks of rubbish and has continued to liaise closely with local campaigners and will hopefully organise a series of meetings between key local groups to work together to look after the river and its surroundings.