COUNCIL chiefs have resisted calls to “pull back from the brink” and shelve a flagship development plan, insisting it must be agreed to avoid developers building houses “ad-hoc”.

Durham County Council officials say the County Durham Plan (CDP) is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reverse the county’s long-standing economic decline, building 31,400 new houses and creating 30,000 new jobs by 2030.

Four years in the making, including five rounds of consultation, it identifies dozens of sites across the county for new houses, businesses and shops.

But critics who believe it is way over the top say it must be withheld, to save the council the embarrassment of it being thrown out by a planning inspector at a public examination expected this summer.

Kirsty Thomas, from Friends of Durham Green Belt, said: “Even more importantly, it would leave County Durham at the mercy of developers because of the resulting delay in having an up-to-date local plan.”

In a plea to councillors, she added: “Please pull back from the brink.”

However, Mike Allum, the council’s spatial policy manager, said he was “pretty confident” the authority had a very robust and extensive evidence base for its housing, employment and retail proposals and added: “We need to think about what happens if we don’t have a plan.

“Applications would be judged on a more ad-hoc basis and we risk getting development on sites we don’t think want it.”

The spat comes before the CDP goes to the council’s cabinet on Wednesday, April 19. It could be debated at a full council meeting on Wednesday, April 2, and then submitted to the government within days.

Mr Allum said nearly 4,000 comments were received during the final consultation, last autumn, but no major changes have followed.

That means the CDP still envisages Durham City becoming a boom town, with 5,000 new homes including 4,000 on greenbelt land, a world-class business hub at Aykley Heads and two new bypasses.

The public examination, the first of its kind in the country, could last several months and cost the council £400,000.

Council chiefs hope the CDP will finally be adopted early next year.