A ROW has escalated over a council’s decision-making process and a move to abandon a controversial plan to develop homes on former playing fields.

Leader of the Darlington Borough Council Labour opposition Councillor Stephen Harker has emailed the authority’s leader, Councillor Heather Scott and the 48 other elected members to raise concerns over “the extraordinary circumstances” over the withdrawal of the council’s plan to build 37 houses on Harris Street, in Eastbourne, just days after officers had lodged a planning application.

Cllr Harker said the council had commissioned detailed site investigations as far back as June last year and housing cabinet member Councillor Kevin Nicholson had alleged senior officers proceeded with the scheme without the oversight or agreement of cabinet members.

He wrote: “As both deputy leader and then leader of this council, it was always my experience that officers worked closely with cabinet members and indeed the leader. There was detailed oversight of significant developments such as this.

“If Cllr Nicholson is to be believed, officers have been working unchecked for over a year, when I would have expected the relevant cabinet members to have been kept fully briefed.”

Cllr Harker said he could not recall a time when a senior member of the authority had criticised officers and implicitly fellow cabinet members in this way and questioned whether officers’ working relationship with councillors had been damaged.

He urged Cllr Scott to explain to residents why the planning application had been withdrawn, as residents raised questions over how much money the council had spent developing the plans.

Cllr Scott said she did not wish to comment as she would reply privately to Cllr Harker.

However, Cllr Nicholson responded to Cllr Harker thanking him for “confirming this was indeed a Labour plan to build unwanted houses on an open green space”.

The Independent group leader said: “I’m sure that the residents of Eastbourne will be more than happy to know that you’re now objecting to the fact that the application has now been withdrawn. I can see that Labour Party are learning how not to win back seats here.”

Cllr Nicholson said he had raised objections and concerns about the plan when meeting with officers and “there has been some confusion with proceeding to the next stage”.

He added: “I guess you could say there are learnings on both side. I have been inundated with messages of support about this withdrawal. Eastbourne has had its fair share of houses, I also note the delay during the election to start building houses on Harris Street. I’m sure this was not an oversight by Labour.

“So I suspect your concern comes more out with the fact that this is a popular decision, rather than out of concern for council officers.”