FEARS have been raised that rural parts of Darlington could be neglected in future if plans to merge two adjoining council wards go ahead.

Members of Sadberge Parish Council said they were astonished by Boundary Commission proposals to create a single ward to represent Sadberge and Middleton St George on Darlington Borough Council.

The parish council said although its level of representation is likely to be unaffected in the short term, in the long term it is possible new councillors could be elected who preferred to focus on the more highly populated Middleton St George, to the detriment of smaller villages like Sadberge.

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The proposal from the independent Boundary Commission was one of several suggested changes to the borough council's electoral map as it looks to reduce its number of councillors from 53 to 50.

The draft plan suggests the creation of a giant rural ward reaching from Bishopton in the north to the existing border with Hurworth in the south.

Under the proposal, three councillors would represent the merged ward – the existing Sadberge and Whessoe ward is currently represented by a single councillor, Brian Jones, while Middleton St George has councillors Doris Jones and Steve York.

The draft plan is open to consultation, with the public and other interested bodies – including parish councils – able to have their say.

Sadberge Parish Council said it would write to the Boundary Commission to make it clear it was against a merged Sadberge and Middleton St George ward.

Parish clerk Alastair Mackenzie, asked for his view on the proposed changes, told members: “This would not be to the benefit of Sadberge. This village gets a lot of benefit from having a ward councillor whose focus is on a rural area with small villages.

“I would be concerned in future if we had three councillors who were all based in Middleton St George, where the main population base of this proposed ward would be – would they be concerned with Sadberge and the smaller villages?”

Borough councillor Brian Jones, who attends each meeting of Sadberge Parish Council, added: “If it went ahead there would be no change at first – myself, Doris and Steve work closely together and its fine. It is what would happen in the future that worries me.”