A CONTROVERSIAL decision over which residential roads should become access points for a 4,000-home garden village will now not be made until the planning application stage, it has emerged.

A Darlington Borough Council meeting heard claims that following an “explicitly political decision” by the Conservative administration to scrap plans to build a link road through Springfield Park to the proposed Skerningham development, residents living on named possible alternative routes had been “left in limbo”.

Opposition councillors have long credited pledges relating to the Skerningham scheme made a major difference at the ballot box in May 2019, bringing the Tories into power at the council for the first time in decades.

Labour councillor Nick Wallis told the meeting residents in Whitebridge Drive, Beauly Drive, Sparrowhall Drive and Whinbush Way were facing a lengthy period of uncertainty as the authority had not studied the possible effects on traffic in Whinfield and Harrowgate Hill following concerns being raised over a significant increase in traffic as a result of the park road being dropped.

Cllr Wallis highlighted to the meeting that Beauly Drive is “a small cul-de-sac”, while Whitebridge Drive on the same self-contained estate, “is heavily traffic-calmed”. He said: “Routing traffic through there from Skerningham would be a disaster.”

He questioned if the council’s leadership was aware Sparrowhall Drive “is a single carriageway dead-end road with a difficult junction onto Whinbush Way” and whether adding more traffic onto Whinbush Way and Barmpton Lane was sensible.

Cllr Wallis said the authority’s cabinet had had nine months to examine the logic of removing the Springfield link road, but had done “precisely nothing”. He said: “You have left residents in these affected areas in limbo.”

Cllr Wallis sought answers ahead of the authority’s draft Local Plan being considered by a government inspector.

The challenge also came as the government called for views on a White Paper seeking to radically transform the planning process. The White Paper states public consultations will be “front-loaded” to a streamlined Local Plan stage and a speedier planning application stage will focus on checking proposed developments against a national framework.

Councillor Alan Marshall, the council’s economy cabinet member, said the traffic modelling that had been carried out in the area “went way beyond what is normally expected for a Local Plan”.

He said as soon as it was confirmed that the Skerningham development would be viable without the Springfield Park link road, predictive traffic studies ceased.

Cllr Marshall said: “If and when a planning application is submitted detailed access arrangements will be highlighted in that application. They will then be modelled and any mitigation measures identified.

“If and when a planning application comes forward everything will be on the table to have a look at. There will be detailed discussions, there will be a number of possible access points and all will be considered during the master planning and subsequent applications.”