OPPONENTS of the controversial Skerningham development have challenged council leaders on the plans.

Members of the public put questions to leading councillors about the development of some 1,650 homes in the next 14 years.

The new Darlington Local Plan, which outlines planning priorities until 2036 and includes Skerningham, was passed by a narrow 24-20 vote of councillors in February amid protests and opposition.

Skerningham is its largest and most contentious development, a 487-hectare site allocated for up to 4,500 homes.

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In Darlington County Council's most recent full meeting, Judith Murray asked about council-owned land on the site.

She said Conservative councillors claimed they could do nothing to stop the Skerningham development as they did not own the land.

She said: "Can the council acknowledge that it does own land which is being developed as part of the initial phase of Skerningham?

"Can members clarify the percentage of the proposed 1,650 homes that are being developed will actually be upon land either currently or previously owned by council?

"Can the council also explain why, given the local opposition to the Skerningham development, they agreed to sell what is essentially public-owned land without consulting the public on whether or not they actually want this land to be sold?

"This land is not only much-needed agricultural land, it is also well-used recreational land.

"Why has the council chosen not to consult upon the sale and development of this public land?"

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Councillor Alan Marshall, cabinet member for the economy, said: "I don’t think it was said that the council didn’t own any land. I think it was said we didn’t own all of the land.

"And yes, I can confirm that the council do own some of the land which is part of the Skerningham allocation.

"It’s approximately 8.1% of the total allocation that covers the east and west of the East Coast Main Line."

But he said there was no detailed planning application at the moment.

So "we do not know when, or if" any council-owned land would be used.

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Marshall added in the meeting: “At this point in time the council has not sold any land within the Skerningham Local Plan allocation.”

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service today: "There's a long, long way to go yet.

"There are no detailed planning applications for any development.

"We don't know what's going where, what sort of houses they are or anything.

"That's why we're having public consultation or public engagement and the development of a design code.

"Once that's finalised there'll be a masterplan put together with a phasing plan to tell us what it starts looking like.

"The Local Plan is only a spatial framework for where development could go."

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Also at the council meeting, Alan McNab argued Skeringham was found to be unsuitable for development in 2015, but an assessment in 2017 found it suitable.

He said the later assessment did not flag up “serious drawbacks” such as risk of contamination from a landfill site and damage to wildlife.

He asked: “Why do you consider they are no longer obstacles to the development at Skerningham?

“What action will the council take to prevent any further risk?”

Cllr Marshall replied the landfill site was addressed as a “constraint” and the site was found to be suitable for the Local Plan.

He said Northumbrian Water and the Environment Agency had “no adverse comments to make” in the plan’s consultation.

He added the Skerningham area was identified as in need of water and sewage investment, and the planning process would deal with the issues in detail.


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