THE Government has refused to ‘call in’ part of a controversial £200m housing scheme, clearing the way for work to begin and triggering renewed calls for a Durham town council.

After Banks Property won planning permission to turn the 95-acre Mount Oswald golf course site, off South Road, Durham, into a £200m housing development last year, Roberta Blackman-Woods, the city’s MP, asked Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to make the final decision on the first phase, for 61 homes, through the ‘call in’ process.

However, Mr Pickles has declined, meaning Durham County Council’s decision stands and work has now begun on site.

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Dr Blackman-Woods said she was extremely disappointed.

“This and further applications will change the nature of Durham, removing a much-needed part of the green landscape of the city,” she added.

Dr Blackman-Woods said Durham needed a “stronger voice in the community” and vowed to start a petition as soon as possible demanding the creation of a town council for the city.

There have been concerns over a “democratic deficit” in Durham since the city council was abolished in 2009.

However, a first attempt to create a town council failed in 2012, amid clashing ideas and public apathy.

Any petition would need to be signed by five per cent of the local electorate to trigger a referendum.

Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Martin said he entirely supported the town council idea and it should not be a party political issue.

Cllr Martin added he was disappointed but not surprised at the decision not to ‘call in’ Mt Oswald.

Mark Dowdall, Banks’ environment and community director, said the Mt Oswald scheme, which also includes an exclusive millionaires’ row, accommodation for 1,000 students, offices and community facilities, would be an outstanding, high quality, low density, sustainable new neighbourhood of families and students and he was pleased to see work starting on site.

“Our proposals received substantial local scrutiny over a significant period of time and were approved at a local level by elected local councillors in line with the principles of localism on which the UK’s planning regime is based.

“No review at national level of any part of this decision was ever either required or warranted, and we’re pleased that the Secretary of State agreed with this position,” he added.