FORMER footballer Paul Bracewell has said he will consider High Court action to resolve a long-running planning dispute over houses he wants to build on his land.

The former England, Sunderland and Newcastle player says the dispute dates back more than 16 years, when the house and garden belonging to him and wife Carol, at Fernhill, Durham, were included within the designated green belt by the now defunct Durham City Council.

He said Durham County Council has since informed him verbally and in writing that there was no ‘justification or rationale’ for its inclusion and accused them of failing to rectify the situation by removing it or approving his plan for four detached dwellings with garages.

Mr Bracewell said: “The whole saga has been very frustrating to say the least.

“I found out in 2003, when I first considered applying for planning permission to build on my land, that my property had been included in the greenbelt, a situation that the council confirmed in writing was without justification or rationale.

“Despite this error the council have failed to correct their error and take responsibility for it.

“More frustratingly after years of correspondence, rather than correct their initial error, they then advised me in 2004 to pursue the removal via the local plan.

“Then at the Inspector’s hearing to remove from the greenbelt they gave inadequate answers to the straightforward questions by the Inspector, and the green belt removal was declined.”

The county council, however, insists it was the Government planning inspector who felt it should remain and going against that would stall the adoption of a new County Durham Plan – a vision for all development across the county until 2035.

Mike Allum, Durham County Council’s spatial policy manager, said: “Mr Bracewell’s land was designated as green belt by a government planning inspector in adopting the City of Durham Local Plan in 2004.

“Following several rounds of public consultation, the inspector agreed with a proposal that it be such from the defunct Durham City Council.

“Subsequently Mr Bracewell made the case to us that his land should not be part of the green belt around Durham City. We advised him that national policy dictates that green belt boundaries can only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation of a local plan.

“Having considered the evidence, we agreed a case could be made for exceptional circumstances for Mr Bracewell’s land to be removed and in the preparation of the County Durham Plan (CDP), we proposed that it no longer be designated as green belt.

“However having considered arguments from Mr Bracewell and ourselves, the government planning inspector examining the CDP has ruled that exceptional circumstances do not exist and that it should remain part of the green belt.

“We will not be able to adopt the County Durham Plan if we do not accept the recommendations of the planning inspector.

“We have determined planning applications from Mr Bracewell in light of local and also national planning policy which similarly safeguards green belt from development unless very special circumstances exist.

“Any future applications would be determined against the same planning policies.”

Mr Bracewell accused the council of hiding behind the Inspector and said he has the support of City of Durham MP Mary Foy.

He said: “I wanted to make it clear to the local public along with my MP for the City of Durham, Mary Foy, the clear facts surrounding my position, and that I am also prepared to go to the High Court, should this mistake not be corrected in the meantime by the council or the planning committee.”