A COUNCIL has been accused of trying to minimise objections to its plan to develop 37 homes and a children’s home on former playing fields.

Residents in the Eastbourne area of Darlington said they had become alarmed after a planning application notice for the proposed development was posted on a lamppost on Harris Street last week, which stated the public would have from May 1 to May 22 to voice their views.

Residents said as the council has suspended its usual publicity for planning applications, which includes sending letters to those living in the immediate area, many people would remain unaware they needed to highlight their opinions.

Darlington Borough Council, which is behind the scheme, said it had 1,508 applications on rehousing lists, made up of 508 families and 1,000 singles and couples, a third of whom had expressed a preference for the Eastbourne area.

However residents have raised concerns with the authority that Coronavirus lockdown restrictions and high risk isolation guidance would mean many people would not be aware of the plans.

Ken Ripley, of nearby Carnaby Street, said he had said: “Given the current situation with the Covid 19 virus this is surely ill-timed as the number of people able to read this notification is greatly reduced.

“At best this is an unfortunate error of judgement. At worse it is a cynical and disrespectful attempt to push ahead with the approval of this development with the minimum number of objections.”

Mr Ripley has called on the council to reissue the application “at a more appropriate time”.

Eastbourne ward member and cabinet member for housing Councillor Kevin Nicholson said the application had proved controversial as many residents felt the plans for the open space were inappropriate.

He said it was essential the consultation period was extended to enable views to be expressed.

The council’s planning committee chairman Councillor Doris Jones said residents would have opportunity to express opinions before the application was decided by councillors.

She said: “There has to be a proper consultation – the council is obliged to do so. In addition, planning meetings are always open to the public.”

It is understood senior council officers are wanting planning application submissions to be ready for decisions after lockdown, but have so far declined to change the consultation deadline.

A council spokeswoman added it was meeting the statutory minimum publicity requirements which include displaying a site notice and publishing the information on its website and in a local newspaper.

She added: “We understand the important role the planning process will play in helping the recovery of the economy in the coming months and so we are continuing to operate our planning service in these challenging times.

“However, as our planning staff are working from home we have had to make some changes. These are unprecedented times and we are continually reviewing the processes in line with government and Public Health England advice.”