PLANNING permission for a centre to help vulnerable children could be delayed following opposition from villagers.

Proposals to transform a farm into a residential therapeutic, education and care facility have been met with concern from residents of nearby Heighington, near Darlington.

Villagers spoke of their worries at a recent public meeting and more than 100 letters of objection have been lodged with Darlington Borough Council since the plans were announced in November last year.

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Concerns have been raised around issues such as security, increased traffic on access roads, the impact on local farmers and the spoiling of the rural landscape.

One complaint said: “The modern design of the development, especially the school, is not in character with the surrounding rural area.”

Another added: “The lanes leading to it from A68, Heighington and Redworth are difficult presently, being single vehicle width in most sections, with vehicles having to back up to avoid collision.

“In winter conditions and in the dark these would be a dangerous nightmare.”

Residents have now set up a steering group led by local farmer Peter Cockburn, who fears the development could be a potential hazard to his livelihood and to children who may be tempted to climb combustible haystacks on his land.

Mr Cockburn told a meeting of Heighington Parish Council last week that funds raised by villagers have been used to enlist the services of planning experts.

He said the steering group is now calling on Darlington Borough Council to delay any decisions until they have had chance to conduct their own traffic surveys and site visits.

Mr Cockburn also suggested that there was no local need for the facility, saying that most of the children who would be housed there would be placed from outside the area.

However, planning documents submitted by the Witherslack Group say that the £3m development would meet demand for residential spaces in the area.

The documents say just five per cent of children’s homes in the country are based in the North-East and that between 26 and 50 per cent of looked after children from County Durham and Darlington are placed outside of the local authority boundary.

The proposed development - which would initially cater for 14 children and provide more than 50 new jobs – would incorporate two residential buildings and a learning centre on the site of Jubilee Wood Farm, near Heighington.