TOP brass from Durham Constabulary will be grilled over plans to split the county in two when they meet Darlington cabinet members on Tuesday.

Opposition is already mounting against the north-south divide being proposed in a consultation document.

The two divisional headquarters would be in Chester-le-Street and Darlington, but the southern communications centre would be moved from Darlington to Bishop Auckland.

A fall-back option offers a three way split with headquarters at Peterlee, taking in Newton Aycliffe and Seaham.

When the force restructure was discussed by County Durham Police Authority, local representative, Coun Bill Dixon, voted against both options and unsuccessfully proposed a third - that Darlington stood alone.

Coun John Williams, Darlington's council leader, said: "I am very concerned about what is being proposed.

"We won the argument for Darlington's unitary status some years ago and it was acknowledged then, by the Government and others, that Darlington should have control of its own affairs. This seems to be pulling in the opposite direction.

"Our fears are that the police service will lose its focus on what it needs to be doing here. We have built up an excellent partnership and obviously want to continue that.

"I believe one of the key factors is that regional government will cause boundary changes in County Durham. But that is not happening in Darlington.

"We don't want to be caught up in a turbulent political situation where there is a lot of argy-bargy about where boundaries should be. Ours are settled and not up for review."

The Mayor of Darlington, Coun Doris Jones, met chief constable Paul Garvin when she and chief executive, Barry Keel, made a civic visit to the Durham headquarters.

"I have tremendous respect for the way Barry Keel stood up to the chief on this," she said later. "He really stuck his toes in. He said leaving Darlington as it is had not even been considered.

"Why not leave Darlington as a stand alone. It has put money where its mouth is and put a tremendous amount into partnerships with the police. I don't think we are getting the same in return."

A police spokesman replied: "Clearly, if Darlington wants to remain as a unitary division that would be a point to be considered.

"We stress no decision has been taken and the structure and final decision remain fluid. What the top brass here are saying is that this wide-ranging consultation process will not be rushed. We must get it right."

He stressed: "Core policing will remain unchanged. Maybe politicians in Darlington will feel more reassured when they learn that."

Assistant chief constable Ron Hogg and Chief Supt Eric Suddess will make a presentation in the town hall on Tuesday at 4pm.