COUNCILLORS have waved through plans to build almost 10,000 homes in the borough before 2036.

As part of the Darlington Local Plan, an average of 492 homes each year – a total of 9,840 dwellings – need to be built over the next 20 years to kickstart economic growth, councillors were told.

The figure far exceeds Office of National Statistics (ONS) projections of just 177 new homes each year but these government estimates were 'flawed', Councillor Chris McEwan, cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said. Evidence from local data contradicted the ONS figures, he said.

The housing figure nodded through by councillors will underpin the council's Local Plan, which sets out the projections of growth and the shape of the town and surrounding villages over the next two decades.

Addressing fellow councillors at the full council meeting, Cllr McEwan said: "Independent consultants have helped us develop a methodology for the new houses over the next 20 years. The report itself is based on objective evidence. There has been thorough debate on this issue.

"We don't agree with the (ONS) figures and we feel we have objective evidence to set a more accurate figure. Government methodology is at consultation stage in any case. There is a wealth of administrative data shows something isn't quite right in the ONS data."

He said GP registrations in Darlington had far outstripped the growth the ONS predicted recently.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Anne Marie Curry said: "At what level do we start planning for new schools and doctors surgeries? In Middleton St George the primary school there is struggling with too many numbers.

Cllr McEwan said doctors surgeries and new schools were out of the council's remit – but it did have a duty to plan for the land.

He added: "When I meet with residents they say, why do we need 10,000 houses? Well, people are living longer and consequently we will need additional accommodation for a population that is growing older and then we will have to start getting into a debate about what kind of properties we need.

"We also need to be thinking about inward migration as well. We have to think about who will be doing the jobs.

"Economic growth is necessary to support the whole community."

The Local Plan is subject to review every five years. The Government requires planning authorities to prepare an objective assessment of housing need, which it says should be based on the latest ONS population projections.