The Labour-led leadership in charge of Darlington Borough Council has been accused of not having a plan for the town one year after it regained control. 

Council leaders responded to claims from local Conservatives that the removal of key town centre schemes and events have impacted footfall and investment in the town. 

But Council Leader Stephen Harker accused the Tories of “doom-mongering”.

Councillors met on Thursday almost a year after Labour regained control of the local authority during the 2023 local elections. 

Cllr Jonathan Dulston, leader of the Conservatives, said: “Despite many election promises and ambitions, the council has delivered very little. 

“It’s very clear that this Labour administration doesn’t have a plan for our town. Can the public expect year two to be just as bad?”

Cllr Dulston said the town is suffering due to the decision not to renew the two-hour free parking scheme and cancel the South Park fireworks display. He also said the administration was to blame for delays in key town centre infrastructure projects including Northgate House, Skinnergate redevelopment, and the indoor market. 

He criticised Cllr Harker and deputy leader Chris McEwan, saying: “‘Captain chaos’ is incapable of making decisions and blindly follows officers’ decisions while his colleague ‘Sleepy Chris’ has been asleep behind the wheel for the last year. He hasn’t even been in the driving seat while he has been focused on his failed bid to become Tees Valley mayor.”

Council Leader Harker said Labour had improved foster care support and social care in the town while providing new housing and had supported residents. 

Hitting back at the opposition’s claims, Cllr Harker said: “You made rash promises about time scales. Your speciality has always been to overpromise. You made rash promises about things you could deliver.”

And responding to questions about delays to several key town centre projects, Cllr Harker replied: “You didn't manage to achieve it in four years, so why are you asking us?”

Car parking row 

The Northern Echo:

Criticism of the decision not to renew the two-hour free car parking scheme in Darlington is a line of attack repeatedly used by the Conservatives. 

The estimated cost of continuing the scheme was believed to be £1.7m. Cllr Harker said: “This local authority simply does not have the money to spend on maintaining free car parking, it’s as simple as that.”

Yet Cllr Dulston questioned the intentions of Chris McEwan, whose campaign to become Tees Valley mayor included a pledge to restore free parking in town centres. 

The Conservative leader said: “You decided to cancel free car parking but during your mayoral campaign said it was central to the success of our town. Surely you think it’s now time to review our position on the scheme to attract more people into the town centre? 

“Given that Teesside Park has free parking and is continuing to expand as well as the new construction at Scotch Corner.”

Recommended reading: 

Don't miss out on the latest news and stories. Subscribe to The Northern Echo now for £3 for three months. 

But Cllr McEwan said it is the Conservatives who are to blame for the scheme ending. 

He said: “I’m clear that you bottled it when the funding ran out. I’m clear that when we took over we exercised responsibility and that's why we didn’t renew it. It wasn’t a question of withdrawing it, we didn’t renew something that was temporary, and you knew that. 

“Going forward we will be looking at a range of measures to improve the town centre. It’s not just about free car parking, it’s also about getting better bus services into the town and securing the nighttime economy. It’s about supporting small businesses.”