COUNCILLORS have clashed over aborted plans to create the region’s first engineering centre of excellence in Darlington.

Alan Coultas, a member of the opposing Conservative group on Darlington Borough Council, was among the supporters of plans for a university technical college (UTC) in the town.

Those plans foundered in 2012 after years of discussions, with those behind the scheme lamenting a "missed opportunity" for Darlington.

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The Northern Echo revealed this week that plans for a UTC in Newton Aycliffe, backed by the University of Sunderland, have been revived, after being snubbed earlier in the year.

A UTC is a vocational college for teenagers, sponsored by a university, which works with businesses in shaping studies tailored towards technical subjects.

At a full meeting of the council on Thursday (March 20) evening, Coun Coultas expressed support for the Aycliffe bid.

During the meeting, he challenged Councillor Cyndi Hughes, Labour’s cabinet member for children and young people, to apologise for opposing plans for a UTC in Darlington.

Speaking to The Northern Echo afterwards, Coun Coultas said: “The UTC looks very likely to happen on our border and we support that.

“We were down the line before Aycliffe got to this stage and it could have been here in Darlington.

“Darlington passed on a big opportunity and people need to understand that.

“Coun Hughes was front and centre in opposing this, we think for the wrong reasons.

“I asked her to apologise for the position she took and for her lack of support in her position as portfolio holder for children.”

Opponents to plans for a UTC in Darlington said it could have threatened schools in the borough, by diverting students interested in engineering subjects.

Coun Hughes said: “Local authorities are committed to supporting opportunities for young people, and for that I make no apology.

“We have strong partnerships with schools and employers in the borough, and for that I make no apology.

“Raising literacy and numeracy skills is the best way to prepare young people for employment.

“Newton Aycliffe is not on the moon. If some of our young people want to access the UTC, wonderful.

“I don’t see a problem with that, if parents want that for their children.”