A DECISION on a countryside garden plan praised as offering real change to the lives of young people with learning difficulties has been delayed.

Five Acres asked for planning permission to use five small fields as a community garden for school leavers with learning difficulties.

The day centre would include a barn, polytunnels, sensory gardens and animal areas on Lime Lane, Brafferton.

The plan would move the facility from its temporary home on a Newton Aycliffe industrial park to a permanent gated and fenced countryside facility with animals including chickens, rabbits, ponies and goats.

It aims to support its young adult "champions" to flourish with animal care, horticulture and agriculture.

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Siobhan Lund, a public health consultant at NHS England, spoke for the plan as a mother of two young adults with severe learning disabilities and a physical disability.

She told a Darlington Borough Council planning committee meeting: "There is a dearth of options within Darlington when these unique young adults finish education.

"I was delighted to find the facility run by the planning applicants where my children could mix with their peers in a programme rich with different opportunities and engagement with the community.

"The proposal before you is precisely the sort of facility that will help young people in Darlington transition to adulthood.

"People with learning disabilities should get the chance to meet new people, keep in contact with friends, enjoy experiences and live ordinary lives like everyone else.

"The proposed development will make a genuine contribution to achieving these important objectives.

"The application before you has the potential to make a real change to many young people in Darlington and their families."

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The plan received 72 letters supporting of the plan, many from people whose children used the Newton Aycliffe facility saying it would provide a valuable life-enhancing service offering "endless opportunities".

Supporters included a care centre leader, council mentor and career guidance advisor, county councillor, town councillors, and the chairman and chief executive of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.

There were 15 letters of objection saying it was out of character in an inappropriate location on a busy road, with concerns about traffic, parking and transport.

Dave Coates, the council's head of planning, development and environmental health, said the rural facility with coach service would significantly benefit the community and this should be given weight.

Planning officers recommended approval.

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Craig Kipling, agent for the developer, said it would bring "huge benefits", improving people's quality of life and independence.

He said: "The proposal is a much-needed facility which will offer young adults with learning difficulties a safe place to learn life skills and assist with their wellbeing, whilst also offering families of the champions a degree of respite."

Councillors raised concerns about safety and security with the proposed garden's proximity to the A1(M), the East Coast Main Line and Aycliffe Quarry.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Doris Jones. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Doris Jones. Picture: Northern Echo.

Committee chair Cllr Doris Jones said the facility was "absolutely admirable" and a "wonderful scheme" but they had to consider safety.

Cllr Lorraine Tostevin, cabinet member for adults, expressed concern about people and livestock on the site: "It would need to be extremely secure in order to find that acceptable."

She asked: "Why don't they stay at Newton Aycliffe which is far safer and a very acceptable environment?"

Mr Kipling replied the countryside site provided far greater opportunities than the current industrial park.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Lorraine Tostevin. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Lorraine Tostevin. Picture: Northern Echo.

Centre manager Donna Martin said no young adults had left the existing facility unsupervised.

Cllr Tostevin recommended refusing the plan because of it was outside development limits, transport and safety concerns, while Cllr Nick Wallis proposed approving it.

Cllr Eddie Heslop suggested councillors visit the site, which was agreed by a 6-4 vote.

Cllr Jones added: "Nothing's decided yet. We just want a clearer picture."


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