THE architects of a Local Plan featuring a 4,500-home garden village supported by services such as schools, public transport and health have called for a key part of the strategy to be scrapped.

Darlington Borough Council’s former leader Councillor Stephen Harker said economic conditions were no longer right to build the Government-backed Skerningham Garden Village and supported the Labour Party’s Tees Valley Mayoral candidate in urging the project be abandoned.

The authority’s Labour group leader said he had been considering withdrawing his support for the controversial housing scheme for some time and denied his hand had been forced by mayoral candidate Jessie Joe Jacobs’s announcement.

She pledged to work with campaigners to “cancel the scheme” and urged residents sign an online petition against Skerningham, which she wants to present to the Government inspector reviewing the Council’s Draft Local Plan in the coming months.

Ms Jacobs said: “The scheme is completely flawed. It is a mess. It is going to destroy Skerningham. It is going to ruin the beautiful countryside, ruin houses and ruin these estates.”

Cllr Harker said the Conservatives had left many unanswered questions about how the Skerningham development could possibly connect to Whinfield without creating traffic mayhem in existing residential streets.

He said: “The world has changed. Covid is having a profound and long term impact on our economy. And most importantly, as Jessie has highlighted the scheme is deeply unpopular. It’s time to step back and ask ourselves is Skerningham viable, is Skerningham indeed necessary. I think the answer to both those questions is no.

"Time and time again residents have come to Council m eetings to protest about Skerningham. But, the Conservatives aren’t listening to what residents are saying. My view has changed. It’s time to step back from Skerningham.”

In response, the authority’s leader, Councillor Heather Scott accused Labour of hypocrisy and highlighted that the Tees Valley Mayor had no jurisdiction over the borough’s Local Plan. Dismissing Ms Jacob’s call as “headline-making”, she said: “When you look at all the good news we’ve got with the Treasury and other jobs coming here we’re going to need housing.”

Darlington MP Peter Gibson said the Labour Party had flip-flopped over the issue and Ms Jacobs appeared ready “to jump on to whichever bandwagon happens to be passing”.

He said: “It’s truly bewildering what Labour stand for. When Labour ran Darlington Borough they were in favour of Skerningham, but dillied and dallied over adopting a Local Plan.”

Mr Houchen said: "It's absolutely staggering that my Labour opponent doesn't understand the mayor's remit and the powers that this role brings. The mayoral role has no control over planning or housing.

"It is also baffling that she is complaining about a policy made by the labour party when they were in control of Darlington Council. What a frightening thought that must be for local people that she has no idea what is going on in our area and who is responsible for what. 

"Labour have now said they would stop the work at the airport and all the new flights, they would stop the progress at Teesworks which is allowing us to create jobs for local people and they would stop all the discussions with international businesses that want to come to Teesside now we have Freeport status because she doesn't like them. This would take us back to square one and would get rid of all of the progress we’ve made. 

"Whilst labour want to undo all the progress we've made, I will get on with creating jobs and making real progress for local people and businesses across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool."