CONCERN is mounting over the number of homes set to be built in and around a town as a scheme to build an estate on green belt land has been recommended for approval.

Heighington residents and councillors have expressed fears roads, schools and NHS services will not cope if Bellway Homes (Durham) Ltd Demolition is granted permission to build 75 homes on three hectares of agricultural land on the edge of the village.

Dozens of residents have urged Darlington Borough Council's planning committee to reject the scheme next week, with many saying the area's infrastructure is already stretched to the limit.

The objections have been raised as the authority faces scrutiny over the number of housing development applications it has granted and Councillor Anne-Marie Curry called on the authority to stipulate to developers when properties could be built.

Cllr Curry said the authority had no need for developments on green belt land as it had previously approved "loads of housing schemes" on brownfield sites which were yet to be started.

She added the council needed to insist on road and school improvements before housing was built, adding areas such as North Road faced "gridlock three times a day".

Heighington residents said the village's GP surgery was at full capacity and pedestrians were being put at risk due to traffic and parking issues and there had been numerous fatal crashes in the area.

In a letter of objection, resident Gary Monk said: "The roads in Heighington are already overloaded with cars and bring a further 100-plus cars to the village is in my opinion absolute madness."

In an attempt to alleviate concerns, the developer has agreed to pump £79,000 into improving walking and cycling routes in the area and £15,000 to create parking spaces near the site.

It has also agreed to provide £229,000 to create 35 extra places at Heighington Academy, which currently has less than five per cent capacity. 

A spokesman for the developer said the benefits of the scheme would include the provision of a range of homes for first-time buyers and families and more council tax for the borough.

He added the "proposal is in line with planning policies" and that there were "no adverse impacts associated with the proposal that would outweight its benefits".

In a report to the planning committee, officers said a recent assessment of housing needs in Darlington showed the borough had more than a five-year supply of housing land, so planning applications no longer had to be considered with a presumption in favour of sustainable development.

The officers' report recommends a condition that the developer would have to start building the estate within 18 months of receiving planning consent, to help improve the "rate of housing delivery in the borough".

It adds: "The proposal does represent a major development which will have an impact on the character and appearance of the area but this impact has to be balanced against the need to provide deliverable housing sites in the borough."