DARLINGTON Borough Council has admitted it mishandled an attempt to sell off playing fields at the town's Longfield School.

A complaint from a Longfield resident was upheld following an internal inquiry by senior council officers.

The woman, who does not wish to be named, said repeated requests by residents for access to background papers were met with refusals from the council. The papers were eventually made available more than three months after the original request.

She said: "The background papers now bring to light many aspects of extra examples of irregularities and fiction which demonstrate that it was not only the cabinet that was not correctly informed by council officers, but also, and especially, the Department for Education and Skills."

The local government ombudsman is now investigating her claims that the council "failed to deal properly, comprehensively and in a timely manner" with her complaint about its handling of the affair.

In May last year, the council received general consent from the DfES to sell off part of the school playing fields to housing developers. The money raised was expected to help pay for a tennis centre at the school.

Permission was withdrawn after residents flagged up a number of discrepancies in the council's application.

They claimed the council's submission to the DfES contained "various instances of inaccurate, distorted, misleading and untruthful information.".

In a letter informing the Longfield resident of the council's findings, chief executive Barry Keel admitted the decision to pursue general consent was incorrect.

However, he blamed misinformation from the school's head teacher, Mark Parr, as the major cause of the problem.

He said: "It is unfortunate that a proposal, which was strongly supported by the head teacher, was taken forward on the basis of erroneous information. That was clearly an error but I think that the council, in bringing forward the proposals, was entitled to rely on the view of the head teacher who is, after all, the person in charge of the overall school campus."

Residents and parents were forced into action again at the end of last year after the council told the school to stop using the proposed sell-off area for lessons, thereby taking the amount of physical education time below the national curriculum target.

This again contravened DfES rules and, following pressure from parents and residents, pupils were allowed back on the playing fields on a daily basis.

The council must now submit a new application to the Secretary of State for permission to sell the playing fields. This involves full consultation with all local schools, parents, community users of the site and residents.

A spokesman for the council said draft papers had been drawn up and the consultation period, which has to last for ten school-term weeks, was expected to begin within the next week.

Nobody from Longfield School was available for comment.