A LOCAL authority has defended its decision to press ahead with plans for a housing development, despite numerous concerns being raised over the scheme, including that the land may contain the soluble rock that leads to sinkholes.

Darlington Borough Council has published answers to a series of questions from Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Boddy about its plan to develop 449 homes off Neasham Road amid claims there are less problematic sites that could be developed.

Cllr Boddy questioned whether taking extraordinary action such as a compulsory purchase order to acquire land with an unknown owner was necessary and why the council was funding the road into the site when such infrastructure would normally be paid for by developers.

He said: “Darlington has a reputation for good quality housing stock. I do not want Darlington to acquire a reputation as the sort of place where builders are allowed to build anything anywhere.”

Cllr Boddy, whose family built many houses in Darlington in the 20th century, said many builders had avoided certain plots of land because they were deemed unsuitable.

Documents submitted to support the application state a ground investigation for the site has revealed there is potential for “low magnitudes of surface settlement to occur on this site associated with collapse at depth of thin layers of brecciated and voided gypsum bearing strata”.

Cllr Boddy said: “It has now been alleged that the Neasham Road site may have gypsum in the ground. We need look no further I think for an explanation as to why our forefathers did not develop the site.

“In the headlong rush for development on other sites outlined in the draft local plan, we must always ask ourselves why our forefathers did not develop these sites in years past? There will be a similar reason in each and every case. Local people rely upon their local authority to ensure only good quality housing is built in the local area. I can only hope everyone responsible will keep that in mind.”

When asked if the council was concerned about building a development on land where there may be gypsum, a soluble rock linked to sinkholes, a spokesman said: “As with any of our developments, appropriate preparatory works would be carried out before any building started.”

Councillor Kevin Nicholson, the authority’s housing portfolio holder, said developers would not have wanted to pour resources into making the land suitable for housebuilding, so the authority was working in collaboration with a developer and that had paved the way for more council housing to be built. Referring to the gypsum concerns, Cllr Nicholson added: “I would not allow anybody to be put at risk.”