COUNCILLORS have deferred a controversial decision on a housing application in Darlington which would see 85 trees cut down in the grounds of an historic hall.

A planning application has been lodged to build 30 three and four-bedroom homes on the former site of the Department of Education building in Mowden, which sits close to the historic Mowden Hall.

The building was demolished after staff moved to more modern premises in Bishopsgate House, to the back of the Town Hall on Feethams.

At a meeting of Darlington Borough Council's planning committee yesterday, head of planning David Coates said: "There are a number of trees within the (Mowden) site, some of which would be moved to facilitate the development.

"The Darlington Friends of the Earth group welcome landscaping proposals which include bird boxes, a bug hotel and a wildflower area.

"They were concerned about the loss of the mature trees.

"They also make reference to the Blackwell scenario. I would argue that there are significant differences.

"There are 85 trees to be removed from the site. Many of them are less than significant trees and can be replaced as part of the landscaping scheme.

"There are 13 trees which would be removed as part of this development which are protected."

He said it would be 'physically impossible' to retain those trees as part of the development.

Officers who have recommended the scheme for approval said the benefits of felling the trees included the creation of an open space as well as opening up the area around grade-II listed Mowden Hall, allowing for better views of the building.

Mr Coates showed councillors a map with dots on showing which trees were to be lost on the site.

Planning committee chairman, Councillor Paul Baldwin said: "I feel we need to go and look at the trees rather than at pink dots on a map.

"We are talking about a lot and trying to visualise that is difficult."

He proposed a motion for councillors to go out on a site visit, which was voted through.

He said: "We will come back again in a month but we need to have a look at what is there rather than just looking at photographs and plans. There is nothing like seeing it in real life."

There was a public outcry a year ago after an estimated 200 trees were cut down on the former Blackwell golf course as part of a 59-home development.

Despite the scale of trees lost being included in public consultations, residents were shocked by the amount that were eventually felled, with some saying it looked like 'a tornado had been though it'.