THE leader of a council that saw its housing policy overturned by a government inspector has defended planning officers, arguing that the system is skewed in favour of developers.

Councillor Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said lawyers had “exploited a weakness” in the authority’s housing development plans and admitted it was possible that other developers would do the same.

The authority saw its five-year housing supply figures and housing policy dismissed by a planning inspector as ‘out of date’ at an inquiry brought by Gladman Development as it won an appeal to build 250 houses on a greenfield site in Middleton St George.

Cllr Dixon said Gladman won 97 per cent of its appeals because it had the money to spend on lawyers while local authorities did not and said central government policy was stacked in favour of development.

He added: “We’ve got a problem with housing in Darlington which is why we launched the Local Plan and unfortunately they’ve spotted a weakness in it and they’ve exploited that.

“It’s a complex process which on this occasion we’ve lost.

“The housing figures and the data involved are very subjective. Gladman put some figures before the inspector and ignored others and it was only when the appeal began that officers knew what they were going to act on.”

Asked about the possibility of other developers exploiting the situation, he said: “It is always possible that further applications will come in.

“I’ve asked the officers to resolve the availability issue as a matter of priority.”

Cllr Heather Scott, leader of the Conservative group, attended a meeting with council planning officers and Cllr Doris Jones and Cllr Steve York, ward members for Middleton St George, to hear how the authority had got its figures so wrong.

She said: “There is a catalogue of things that have gone wrong.

“It is all to do with the Darlington Local Plan, which the inspector has said it not up to date.

“The officers told us that there were legal changes and that they had not really got the details of the changes ahead of the appeal and that is what Gladman exploited.

“Surely, if you know something is in the offing, you should find out about it?”

Cllr Jones, who revealed last week that she had begged the council to check its figures before going to the inquiry – which was refused – added: “To us, it looks as though it has been totally messed up.

“They were so sure that the figures they had were right and someone has come in and torn it to shreds. I think they were overconfident in themselves.”