A PROPERTY developer has claimed a borough that is set to see swathes of its rural surrounds built in the next two decades could and should instead focus on regenerating brownfield sites where thousands of homes could be built.

Francis Ward, whose firm offers construction services to local authorities, commercial, industrial and residential clients across the North-East and North Yorkshire, said he had identified at least ten sites in Darlington where the owners would be keen to sell run-down properties.

While Mr Ward said he would not be objecting to Darlington Borough Council’s proposed Local Plan, he said he had set his sights on saving the town’s green belt by continuing to transform post-industrial sites.

The council’s ambition to 2036 states many of the 10,000 new homes it claims will be needed should be built over agricultural fields in areas such as Skerningham and Faverdale, where government-backed garden villages are planned.

Ahead of a government planning inspector holding a hearing to consider aspects of the draft Local Plan, Mr Ward said he was concentrating his efforts on less desirable brownfield sites because their redevelopment would produce the best returns for Darlington.

He said: “Major housebuilders, whose head offices are hundreds of miles down south, don’t care for this town. They are more than happy to buy up huge areas of our beautiful green fields to build on. The problem with that is it leaves a patchwork of empty sites across the town, sites that have been dormant or disused for decades.”

The company is nearing completion of the first phase of its Haughton Road project, on the grounds of an old motorbike garage, which includes six townhouses.

He said: “Projects like our Haughton Road development are a perfect example of the difficulties with brownfield sites. It costs a great deal of money to demolish existing structures, deal with contaminated ground and modernise old utilities. You’re heading for a loss maker from the beginning unless you can cram in as many dwellings in as possible and that’s why most developers won’t touch regeneration sites, because there isn’t enough money in it.”

His business partner, Chris Howard, said as developers were facing at least an extra 20 per cent cost to build on brownfield sites, the Government needed to offer grants to build on derelict land.

Mr Ward said: “It’s about regenerating this town so that it is fit to live in for our children and their children long into the future. Because of years of outward expansion haven’t made it out of the industrial revolution yet, as there are still derelict factories, waste grounds and concrete fields in the heart of this town. These areas should be dealt with before we touch another field on the edge of Darlington.”