CAMPAIGNERS have questioned whether changes to a deal between Durham Tees Valley Airport’s (DTVA) operator and six councils put pressure on planners to approve a proposal for a large-scale housing development.

After more than a year of refusing to publish the 2016 Deed of Amendment between the Tees Valley and Durham councils and airport operator Peel – made ahead of a housing development plan at DTVA being decided – Darlington Borough Council has released part of the document.

However, the Darlington authority is continuing a legal battle at a first tier tribunal to stop elements of the document from being made public after the Information Commissioner ruled the papers should be released.

The papers released by the council earlier this week reveal changes to the terms of the 2003 deal involving the councils to sell a 75 per cent share in the 951-acre site to airport operators Peel for £500,000, which was later increased to 89 per cent at no extra cost.

The released papers are the latest to be published following a campaign by residents concerned over the sale of the airport for just £590 an acre in 2003.

They want the councils to reveal full details of the deal, which they say has remained shrouded in secrecy for 15 years.

A spokesman for the Save Teesside Airport campaign described the latest papers to be released as a “shabby surrender document”.

He said the terms the councils agreed to was a far cry from those outlined before the 2003 deal.

The campaigners said the 2003 Subscription and Shareholders Agreement stated the councils would take on an investor to develop and improve the competitive position of the airport by growing its operations, but the 2016 document showed an “acceptance that the airport would be operated at a reduced level of operations”.

The Save Teesside Airport spokesman said the document showed the six councils had shown support for Peel’s plan to build 350 houses on airport land and Peel had divested itself of up to £3m of pension responsibilities.

He said it was believed redacted sections in the document related to Peel undertaking to keep DTVA open and the 2016 changes “must have put enormous pressure on Darlington as the planning authority” to approve Peel’s housing plan.

The multi-million pound development was granted last year on the casting vote of the planning committee chairman.

Darlington council’s economic regeneration boss, Councillor Chris McEwan said: “The planning process is totally independent and in this case any decision was made by the planning committee based on the evidence presented to it on the day.

“I personally believe we should work collaboratively to maintain a viable airport. It is in the interests of those in the Tees Valley and wider economy.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen declined to comment on details revealed in the document.

He said: “Our airport needs to come back under public ownership to secure its long term future. My negotiations with Peel have entered an advanced stage and a non-disclosure agreement has been signed. I hope an agreement can be reached this year.”