DECISIONS on controversial housing developments are being made by councillors who are unaware of all the necessary information, it has been claimed.

Opposition Darlington Borough councillors have highlighted a bizarre situation surrounding planning applications for which an evidence-gathering visit by members to the proposed site is deemed crucial.

Planning committee member Councillor Lorraine Tostevin said concerns had been raised that many of the councillors voting on key decisions were not those who had attended the site visit and lacked a full understanding of the issues.

She said: “This has been noticed by some residents and caused some disquiet.”

Councillor Gerald Lee said while the committee’s members often voted to visit sites as it needed more information to make a decision, it was common for few members to turn out to see the site.

He said when the application returned to the committee it was possible the “two or three people” who visited the site would be greatly outnumbered at the decision-making stage by “everybody else on the committee, who have the right to vote”.

Cllr Lee said: “Surely we are open to a challenge by the applicant when on the first instance we say we can’t make a decision because we don’t have enough information, then we come back later, many of us not having any more information. I think this seriously needs looking at.”

Cllr Lee also described the council’s planning public consultation process as “an absolute farce” and called for the council to insist on feedback from developers to reveal their response to the views residents’ had expressed.

The authority’s deputy leader Councillor Stephen Harker said he welcomed the observations about the planning process, but suspected the answers would be “in the legislation surrounding the consideration of planning applications”, rather than something that could be addressed in the council’s constitution.

He said it was clear that information gained on site visits was not the “be all and end all of what the planning committee must consider”.