DARLINGTON Campaigners opposing the controversial Skerningham development are calling on leaders to rethink their 20-year plan for the region.

The Skerningham Woodland Action Group (SWAG) is asking for a fresh plan to be drawn up with more consultation with residents.

The Darlington Local Plan, which sets out planning priorities for the area until 2036, includes up to 4,500 homes in a "garden village" on 487 hectares of land at Skerningham, which has faced opposition for years.

The plan will be discussed at a special meeting of Darlington Borough Council at the Dolphin Centre at 6pm on Thursday, February 17.

Setting council tax for the next year, financial plans and the proposed Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter are also on the agenda.

Kathy Barley from SWAG said: "Our viewpoint generally is about protecting green space. We're not opposed to a Local Plan, and we're not opposed to house-building per se.

"Green space is being swallowed up by development here, there and everywhere. There's less green space than there was and there's going to be even less in the future."

The Northern Echo: Campaigners at a previous event to celeberate Skerningham. Picture: Jonathan BailieCampaigners at a previous event to celeberate Skerningham. Picture: Jonathan Bailie

She said the habitat loss and disturbance from the Skerningham plan would be "enormous".

She said: "It's just such a magical place. It's steeped in history.

"It's a shrinking area, a last refuge for some wildlife. It's quite a diverse, rich part of the town.

"If it's developed... it will have destroyed peace and tranquility not just for wildlife but for people as well.

"Lots of people go up there, particularly since the pandemic hit. People have found this area. From a mental wellbeing point of view it's very very important to people.

"They walk up there to have space and clean air. You go there and you can't hear anything. It's desperately important to people as much as it is for wildlife."

Read more: Darlington plan including Skerningham scheme to be debated

She added: "We want the council to vote no to the whole of the Local Plan.

"As much as we're passionate about Skerningham, we can see that there's flaws in the whole plan.

"What we want the council to do is to vote no and to come up with an alternative Local Plan that listens to residents' views, not just Skerningham but other areas as well.

"Let's sit down and put together another Local Plan that actually takes into account everybody's views."

The Northern Echo: Skerningham. Picture: Northern EchoSkerningham. Picture: Northern Echo

She argued there had not been enough consultation: "Many residents don't feel they've had an opportunity to say anything.

"I know that's an issue. There's definitely something missing there.

"There needs to be much more engaging and communicating with residents, and being open to the response as well, not just doing it as a pure exercise of ticking the box. They have to listen."

She said she hoped residents would turn out for the council meeting to show the strength of feeling.

"We've got a petition which has now got 1,200 signatures which will be handed over," she added.

"People don't want lots of house-building."

Read more: Council tax rise 'will help £260m investment in Darlington'

She also raised issues like affordable homes, more consideration to the climate emergency, carbon neutral home-building and renewable energy, and the relocation of Darlington Golf Course impinging on woodland.

Government-appointed inspector William Fieldhouse recently found the Skerningham development was "sound in principle", despite the loss of attractive countryside.

He said it was "expected to make a significant contribution to meeting housing needs", but policy and the site masterplan 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 council said the plan went through four separate periods of public consultation in five years of development.

Councillor Alan Marshall, cabinet member for economy, said residents had their say in consultations and the inspector's public examination.

He said recently: “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.”

He said there would be consultation on masterplans and on future detailed planning applications.

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