A HUGE town plan, including the controversial Skerningham development of up to 4,500 homes, has taken a step forward.

Council leaders have agreed to recommend the Darlington Local Plan, moving it on to a full council meeting.

The 20-year plan for the borough - including major developments of thousands of homes at Skerningham and Faverdale - will be up for discussion at the meeting on Thursday, February 17.

These are the final steps in adopting the plan, a legal document setting out a path for future economic and social development in the town.

The plan includes proposals for up to 4,500 homes in a "garden village" on 487 hectares of land at Skerningham.

Campaigners opposed this scheme for years, describing it as "reprehensible" and striving to protect open green spaces.

Read more: 4,000-home Skerningham garden village in Darlington 'sound in principle'

Planning inspector William Fieldhouse found despite the loss of attractive countryside described as a potential "jewel in the crown", the Skerningham development was "sound in principle".

He said: "The Skerningham site is the largest allocation in the plan, and is expected to make a significant contribution to meeting housing needs in the plan period and for many years after."

He said policy and the masterplan for the site needed to be changed to "achieve sustainable development".

He found the local plan overall had "deficiencies" but was sound and appropriate as long as the council made recommended changes.

The plan also includes "around 2,000 homes, 200,000sqm of employment floorspace, a neighbourhood centre, primary school and other community facilities" on 178 hectares of land at Greater Faverdale.

Councillor Alan Marshall, cabinet member for economy, said last week: “The plan is one we can be proud of.

“For too long, the power has been in the hands of developers who often rode roughshod over the needs and concerns of local people.

“This plan gives some of that power back to the council and will allow us to influence the development of future infrastructure and our green priorities alongside any new housing.”

The Northern Echo: Cllr Alan MarshallCllr Alan Marshall

The report to the cabinet said: “Darlington cannot stand still.

“It has to support its communities to thrive and compete with neighbouring boroughs, and further afield, to attract investment.

“It needs a strong, clear local plan if it is to grow in a sustainable way, and to preserve both its prosperity, and its unique quality of life.”

At the cabinet meeting, Cllr Marshall said the planning inspector found that, with modifications, the local plan was "sound, legally compliant and capable of adoption".

He said it was an essential "framework for growth" to meet the borough's development.

He told councillors: "It sets out how Darlington will grow, adapt and change, and importantly how this will be achieved and managed to enable the structured development of the borough."

Read more: Darlington Local Plan LIVE: Updates as Skerningham set to be discussed

Labour group leader Cllr Stephen Harker said he would leave his comments on the plan until next week's full council meeting.

Giving no views either way, he asked about what would happen next.

He said: "Some of the developments within the plan are quite large.

"Clearly at this stage there's very little detail about the scope and detail of that."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Stephen HarkerCllr Stephen Harker

He asked for timescales on masterplans and detailed designs, saying: "Until some of those are seen by residents, some of the details are still not yet known.

"And therefore many people are still unclear on whether it will have an impact on them in terms of their home life or working life."

Cllr Marshall said: "I can't give you timescales on the masterplan or the detailed designs.

"These will be issues for the developers to bring forward as part of the local plan.

"And certainly for Skerningham and the other garden village at Faverdale there will be a masterplan evolved from this but I don't have a timescale for this.

"There will be consultation on the masterplan, that's for sure, which interested parties will be invited to comment on.

"And obviously you'll have detailed planning applications, there will be consultation on those as and when they come along, as per all planning applications."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Matthew SnedkerCllr Matthew Snedker

Green group leader Cllr Matthew Snedker asked about sustainable housing and making sure developers provide "the very best houses and the very best communities we can achieve".

Cllr Marshall said: "I think it's quite clear in the inspector's report that there will be a masterplan. There will be a design code certainly for the two garden villages.

"That will ensure that we get the best plan possible so that we don't end up with urban sprawl and we do end up with sustainable development.

"Timescales, once again, I couldn't sit here hand on heart and tell you.

"But they are implicit in the local plan and they will evolve as it goes forward."

If the council adopts the plan, there will be a six-week period when it can be challenged in the High Court.

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