A COUNCIL which was accused of using lockdown to minimise objections to its plan to develop a housing estate on former playing fields has abandoned its own proposals.

Councillor Kevin Nicholson, Darlington Borough Council’s portfolio holder for housing, said he had been stunned to see a scheme for 37 homes and a children’s home off Harris Street that had been created under the previous Labour administration being pushed forward by officers.

The Independent member, who has become a member of the Conservative administration’s cabinet following a power-sharing agreement, said there had been “confusion” as to why the application had been lodged without approval by the authority’s leading members. He said leading councillors had told officers the application must be withdrawn.

Residents said they had become alarmed after being told the public would only have from May 1 to May 22 to voice views, despite lockdown restrictions, and that many people would remain unaware of the plans.

In its application, the council stated 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.

But Cllr Nicholson said the council’s leadership had agreed it was important to develop council housing across the whole of the borough, rather than focusing it in its south and eastern areas, to ensure tenants had equal opportunities. He said with plans to develop about 500 homes off Neasham Road and near Cummins factory, Eastbourne ward would have its fair share of housebuilding.

Cllr Nicholson said he was “over the moon” with the decision to scrap plans for the development as the open ground remained “a very well used amenity” and many residents did not support building on the area.

He said: “It is good the leader has listened to the situation. We’ll look at a more appropriate place for those houses. I do appreciate we need those houses. I support housebuilding, but it has to be in the right place for the right people. This is not to say the land off Harris Street will never be used, but if it is, it will be led by residents and not council officers. The council has taken on board the opinions of residents and councillors. It is an indication councillors run the council and this application was led by officers. This decision is a sign of strength as the previous council used to stick to decisions, such as the library, even when they were wrong.”