MULTI-BILLION pound plans to transform part of the region into an economic powerhouse are facing mounting public criticism.

Durham County Council chiefs are defending their County Durham Plan against claims it will destroy Durham City, tear up greenbelt land and ignore whole communities.

Officials say the plan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reverse the county’s economic decline.

Two months of consultation about the proposals ends at 5pm today. The plan contains two options – one for increased growth and one for continuing as before.

Under the first option, the council’s preference, Durham City would become a boom town, with Aykley Heads, on its outskirts, a venue capable of attracting the headquarters of major firms.

Nearly £100m would be spent on roads and 5,000 houses will be built.

However, Carole Reeves, from the Crossgate Community Partnership, in Durham, said: “Durham is a small, historic city and needs very sensitive handling if the goose that lays the golden eggs is not to be destroyed.”

Dr Douglas Pocock, from the Durham City Trust, said: “The present plan, if taken at face value, could mean the end of Durham as we know it.”

Councillor Richard Bell, the leader of the council’s Conservatives, said: “The plan needs to give more weight to planned economic development outside of Durham City, especially in the rural west of the county.”

But Adrian Hadden, chairman of the County Durham Private Sector Housebuilders’ Forum, said the council’s private sector links would allow “appropriate” land to be used for new homes.

He said: “The role of Durham City will be central to this strategy, both as a focus for development and a nationally recognised environment of exceptional quality.”

Stuart Timmiss, the council’s head of planning, said: “There are not any losers in these plans.

“Durham is a fantastic brand, but the population is too small to attract many of the facilities we want. Population is really holding Durham back in many respects.

We can do this without destroying the character, uniqueness and feel of Durham.”

Mr Timmiss said the consultation had been about the council’s “direction of travel”

and that once people understood that, they had been extremely supportive.

He said: “We will look at every single issue that has been raised. This is the start of a dialogue.”

Council chiefs hope the final plan will be agreed in May 2012.