A TOWN plan including the controversial Skerningham development was narrowly passed despite public protests in a charged council meeting.

The 24-20 vote by councillors approving the Darlington Local Plan was met with boos from protesters and campaigners.

The 20-year plan sets out planning priorities for the area until 2036.

Its largest and most contentious development is at Skerningham, a 487-hectare site allocated for up to 4,500 homes, with 1,650 likely to be built by 2036.

Read more: Darlington Council discuss local plan as protestors gather in town centre

Councillor Heather Scott, leader of the council, said without a Local Plan, Darlington would be "at the mercy of developers".

She said: "I think this is the best plan for the whole of the people of Darlington.

"We do have to guard against developers just coming in and doing whatever they want to do.

"We must make sure that we have control over what development we want in the town, the type of development we want and the type of houses.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

"There are other parts of the town that will be in jeopardy if we don't have a plan.

"If we refuse and turn down this plan, the plan can be imposed on us. And we will lose the control that we want."

She said job opportunities were paramount, "and those people will need to have somewhere to live".

Read more: Skerningham protesters call on council to rethink local plan

Councillor Alan Marshall, cabinet member for finance, said he understood the concerns of a "small but vociferous group of protesters".

He said people had the chance to discuss and challenge the proposals with a government-appointed planning inspector who found the plan "sound" after a public examination, and the council could not be "blindsided by one factor only".

He added: "It will not be an urban sprawl. There will be areas for the environmental infrastructure. The developer is not going to flood the area with houses.

"If we don't seize the opportunity to grow our economy in a planned way, the borough may slip backwards and the benefits we want for Darlington will go elsewhere.

"It is not a plan for developers. It is a plan to manage development in a structured way that best suits Darlington.

"If we don't pass that plan, developers will use that to their advantage."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Alan Marshall from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Darlington Borough Council.Cllr Alan Marshall from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Darlington Borough Council.

He added more information was to come, and the public would be consulted on masterplans and detailed schemes.

"You will have a chance to influence the design and the layout of Skerningham," he said.

Labour group leader Cllr Stephen Harker - quoted in the meeting as supporting Skerningham when he was council leader - said he would now vote against the plan after it contributed to Labour election losses.

As councillors debated the plan, he said it was deemed "sound, but is it best?"

He added: "We do need to reach a certain level of consensus or even acceptance.

"Clearly today we're still nowhere near reaching a consensus."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Stephen Harker from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Stephen Harker from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

He said the commitment of campaigners was "more resolute than I've seen at any time" and councillors had to consider their views.

He argued the Conservatives should keep 2019 election promises to protect green spaces, radically change the plan and reduce housing numbers, or persuade residents otherwise.

"I would argue that you've failed to do both," he said.

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Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Anne-Marie Curry said she would vote against it as it did not satisfy provision for nature and it gave her "visions of Watership Down".

Labour Cllr Chris McEwan said: "It is with regret that I am unable to support adoption of this plan.

"In 2019, the people spoke. Indeed in 2022, they are still speaking about this issue.

"In my view, Skerningham and the proposals are just not fit for purpose.

"Skerningham and its inclusion in the plan voids the plan."

Cllr Hilary Lucas said Labour were "trounced because we didn't listen".

She said: "We can't be so arrogant that we don't change our mind.

"We have to have the humility to say, 'we were wrong'."

Cllr Libby McCollom said: "I absolutely feel the need for a plan but this is not it.

"We know that it's the wrong thing to support it. For now, this is not good enough."

Green group leader Cllr Matthew Snedker said it was common sense to oppose "this dreadful plan".

He said: "Quite clearly it was designed with many things in mind, but one of them was money.

"The need for council tax receipts drove the seeking of a Local Plan that would deliver a large number of houses over a short period of time.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Matthew Snedker from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Northern EchoCllr Matthew Snedker from Darlington Borough Council. Picture: Northern Echo

"There were firm, unequivocal pledges made by people seeking votes from people in this town.

"Those pledges were clear - the only way to stop this plan is to vote Conservative. So I say to the Conservatives tonight - stop this plan."

Green Cllr Bryony Holroyd said the plan was "irresponsible" and consultation was "only the minimum requirements" with public responses not built in.

She said: "This is a plan that is being done to them rather than with them. Better is possible.

"A bad plan is not better than no plan. A bad plan will tie us to development that damages this town."

Conservative members for Whinfield took different views on the plan.

Cllr Jamie Bartch said the numbers allocated to Skerningham were "over-inflated", with no protection for woodland and infrastructure.

He was applauded as he announced he would vote against the plan.

He said: "We have been fundamentally split on this issue."

The Northern Echo: Whinfield Conservative councillors Andy Keir and Jamie Bartch. Picture: Northern Echo.Whinfield Conservative councillors Andy Keir and Jamie Bartch. Picture: Northern Echo.

Cllr Andy Keir said it pained him to support the plan and he "had angst over this for the last two years", but the numbers "proved to be good".

He said: "The developers are holding back.

"If we do not pass this plan, those same developers will move in and they will do exactly what they can do to maximise their potential to the detriment of people in Whinfield and maximise profits."

Other Conservative councillors spoke in favour of the plan.

Cllr Pauline Culley said: "The decision that I've made tonight is based on what I've been told by experts.

"That land can be developed by builders if this plan does not go through.

"I don't want developers building whatever they want on that land."

She said if not passed, the plan would probably be put through by an inspector anyway next year.

Councillors voted 24-20 to adopt the Local Plan.

There will now be a six-week period where the plan can be challenged in the High Court.



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