A £3BILLION masterplan that was supposed to transform County Durham’s economic fortunes for a generation has been dramatically binned, with council chiefs going back to the drawing board for another try.

Despite the highly controversial County Durham Plan (CDP) having been rubbished by an independent Planning Inspector in February last year, Durham County Council had been expected to make only minor changes to the heavyweight blueprint before resubmitting it to Government – particularly after it fought a lengthy, costly and ultimately successful High Court battle to have Inspector Harold Stephens’ damning report quashed.

But today (Tuesday, March 29), the North-East’s biggest council announced a timeline for the drawing up of a new Plan, with Stuart Timmiss, its head of planning and assets, declaring the authority had a “clean sheet of paper”.

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The first CDP set ambitious growth targets, envisaging 30,000 new jobs, 31,400 new homes and extra retail and employment space for County Durham by 2030. It saw Durham City becoming a boom town, with two new bypasses costing around £100m, a world-class business hub at Aykley Heads and 5,000 new homes.

Business leaders including Sir John Hall hailed the council’s ambition, but there was also furious opposition – much from green campaigners who said building 4,000 new homes on Durham City’s protected Green Belt would ruin the World Heritage Site city.

John Ashby, from the Friends of Durham Green Belt, said today’s (Tuesday) announcement was “extremely welcome”, though warned the Friends would continue to make the case for a “moderate growth” alternative, while Julia Bowles, of Sedgefield Village Action Group, said it was reassuring and promising.

However, Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods questioned the need for “virtually starting from scratch”, saying the council should have refreshed the Plan, taking on board the criticism, and resubmitted it as quickly as possible.

“The longer we go without a Plan the longer we are without a Plan in place for (planning) applications to be judged against,” she said.

Roger Cornwell, of the City of Durham Trust, went further, saying: “It gives developers a freer rein to put forward proposals in the wrong places. Developers will be trying to seize this opportunity.”

But he added: “It could be good news if they actually listen to the criticisms that were made.”

Mr Timmiss said growing the economy remained the council’s first priority and the original CDP “should have come to a positive result”.

But the authority would also be “looking at social and environmental issues” and “identifying a range of different options”, he added.

Councillor Neil Foster, the cabinet member for economic regeneration, said County Durham desperately needed investment and, given central Government cuts, local economic development was more important than ever, so the new CDP still had to be ambitious.

“The economic reality in Durham hasn’t changed. It’s about how we find resolutions to those challenges,” he said.

Council chiefs have been working on the CDP since at least 2010 and autumn 2014’s six-week examination-in-public alone cost the taxpayer half a million pounds.

Mr Timmiss declined to disclose the full cost of the CDP process, but said it was “insignificant” when compared to the investment County Durham would benefit from.

The council’s cabinet will be asked to agree the process for producing a new Plan when it meets in Spennymoor on Wednesday, April 6.

That would see "issues and options" presented to the cabinet in June, public consultation in June and July and preferred options presented in November followed by further consultation in December and January.

A draft CDP would be agreed in June 2017, triggering a third round of consultation and then a debate at full council, after which the Plan would be submitted to Government in December 2017.

A new examination-in-public could follow in February 2018, the new inspector would publish their report some weeks later and the Plan could be adopted that spring.

For more information, visit durham.gov.uk/CDP