A PROPOSAL to build hundreds of homes in open countryside has been unanimously rejected by councillors.

Permission was sought to build 350 homes with easy access on a site near Beechburn Industrial Estate in Crook.

The proposal was rejected over agricultural and road safety concerns.

The councillors agreed the development would significantly encroach the countryside and would not respect existing and natural landscape features.

The site is on a walking school route and would see young residents walk through an industrial estate next to a national speed limit road to get to school.

Durham County Councillor Andrea Patterson said: "Are we going to really ask our schoolchildren to walk through an industrial estate?

“It will be busy with transport and is next to a 60mph road. There is not enough visibility and we will be putting our children at risk.”

"The development would also mean the loss of open green space never mind the natural habitat."

The plan had 50 letters of objection including from the highway authority who said the application had insufficient information to demonstrate satisfactory means of access could be created.

It also said the plan did not demonstrate the development would have an acceptable impact on the wider highway network.

Other concerns included capacity at schools and places at GP surgeries in the area.

Cllr Patterson added: "At the moment we've got seven fulltime GPs to meet the population needs when we actually need 13. Increasing the number of residents in the area will have a significant impact on the amount of health services which can be provided locally."

Councillor George Richardson said he endorsed the plan to reject the proposal but played 'devil's advocate' he said: "Once again we are referring to the local plan as a prime reason for refusal.

"The access although not ideal can't be classified as 60mph because you come through the buildings to traffic lights, however I endorse the recommendation."