A COUNCIL has launched legal action in a bid to save its rubbished economic masterplan.

In a last-ditch effort to rescue its highly ambitious County Durham Plan (CDP), which aims at 30,000 new jobs, 31,400 new homes, extra retail and employment space and two major bypasses by 2030, Durham County Council has taken the highly unusual step of seeking a judicial review.

Papers were filed at the High Court in Leeds today (Friday, May 15), after Planning Inspector Harold Stephens, who panned the CDP as flawed, unrealistic and unsound, refused to reopen his examination-in-public to consider the council’s concerns.

Ian Thompson, the council’s corporate director for regeneration and economic development, said: “We have no choice but to pursue this matter through the courts by way of a judicial review.

“This is not a decision we take lightly. This is not the position we hoped to be in.”

The legal move won the backing of James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, who said the NECC fully supported the council’s vision for the future; and Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson who said it was the “right move”.

However, Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said she was concerned and disappointed, the council should instead be putting its efforts into producing a plan acceptable to the Inspector and the legal challenge would only delay this process.

Kirsty Thomas, from the Friends of Durham Green Belt, that proposed a “moderate growth” alternative to the CDP, said it was bitterly disappointed, Mr Stephens had been extremely fair and she was very critical of the council for “not accepting the due process”.

“The county council will be spending thousands of pounds on this judicial review and it’s local residents throughout the county will be contributing to that through their council tax,” Mrs Thomas said.

The council believes the legal fight is the least costly option – much cheaper than producing a new plan; and is worth pursuing to secure the estimated £3bn of investment hoped for in the CDP.

A High Court judge will now consider whether the council’s case is worth a hearing. The council hopes such a hearing could take place this summer and the court will order a new examination-in-public with a new inspector. That would require further public consultation, but could be held before the end of 2016.

The CDP places much emphasis on transforming Durham City into a boom town, with 5,000 new homes – including 4,000 on Green Belt – and a world-class business hub at Aykley Heads. Council bosses say it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn around the county's economic fortunes.

But green campaigners and residents groups say it is way over the top and repeatedly challenged the council view at Mr Stephens’ six-week examination-in-public, held at Durham County Cricket Club last autumn.

It was February when Mr Stephens published his damning interim report, to the shock of council chiefs. He gave the authority three options: press ahead, warning that he would likely declare the CDP unsound; suspend the process for up to six months, warning he did not believe there would be time to put things right; or withdraw.

His verdict produced uproar from the business community, led by former Newcastle United chairman, Metro Centre founder and Wynyard Hall owner Sir John Hall, who secured a promise from Chancellor George Osborne to meet North-East business and council leaders to discuss the issue.

Penny Mordaunt, then a Planning Minister, also backed the CDP’s ambitious approach; leading the council to ask Mr Stephens to reopen the examination to address its concerns. However, the inspector refused – prompting today’s (Friday, May 15) decision to seek a judicial review.