COUNCILLORS have raised concerns over government legislation which could allow a high-rise office block to be transformed into residential flats without consulting nearby residents.

An application has been submitted to Darlington Borough Council to change the use of Northgate House, which stands on the edge of the town centre, from office space to 69 self-contained flats.

The application for a change of use for the deserted building has been submitted under new government legislation designed to boost housing development, which removes much of the usual planning process.

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Rather than considering all aspects of the change of use, under the new legislation the authority’s planning committee can only approve or deny developments on the grounds of its highways and transport impacts and whether it poses any flooding or contamination risks.

At a recent meeting of the council’s planning applications committee, Councillor Dorothy Long raised concerns that the legislation stops residents from having their say on nearby developments.

The Northgate ward member said: “Fair enough it is to satisfy housing need, I can see that. The issue is that it doesn’t go through the ordinary planning application scrutiny.

“Existing residents have no say on the matter.

"If it (the development) is done well it could be really good, but I am already worried about the intensification of private rented properties in Northgate.

“I think it is an issue of democracy. There are a lot of people who take a great interest in planning issues and work hard to keep the ward a pleasant place to live.”

Planning officer Dave Coates said although the committee’s powers are limited, the developer is currently working with the authority’s private housing team.

Speaking during the meeting, chairman of the committee, Councillor Paul Baldwin said: “We are governed by government policies.

“I hope we can get it out there that due to government legislation our hands are tied.”