STOCKTON council leader Bob Cook has refused an invitation by a campaign group to speak at a public meeting.

Instead the Labour councillor invited Save Stockton South, which is protesting against the number of homes approved to be built in Yarm, Eaglescliffe and Ingleby Barwick, to a private meeting with the council’s mayor and chief executive.

Shane Sellars, of Save Stockton South, compared the “divided borough” of Stockton North and Stockton South to North and South Korea.

He said: “The difference between North and South Korea and Stockton is that our council leader has responsibility for both areas but seems reluctant to cross the demilitarised zone (the A66) to visit residents in the south.”

Coun Cook said: “I have given great consideration to Shane Sellars’ invitation on behalf of the Save Stockton South campaign group to attend a public meeting.

“While a public meeting may allow many people to air their views it may not be conducive to constructive debate on these complex issues.

“I would urge Mr Sellars to take up the offer made by the mayor of Stockton to attend a private meeting with her and the council's chief executive. This would be better suited to exploring all their concerns about the planning process.

“It is important to reiterate the important distinction between the roles of the council and planning committee in the decisions Mr Sellars is questioning.

“As leader of the council I am accountable and responsible for the planning policies of Stockton Borough Council but individual planning decisions are taken by the planning committee which has independence from the council to make its own decisions.

“It is for this reason that the appeal route for planning committee decisions are to the Planning Inspectorate not to council.”

Mr Sellars said: “Clearly Save Stockton South are disappointed at Councillor Cook's decision not to visit Stockton South as it would have given him the opportunity to meet the residents he is council leader for.

“It would also have afforded him the opportunity to explain to residents why so many developments have been approved without having an infrastructure assessment and Local Plan in place.”

He said Save Stockton South would take up the mayor’s offer for a meeting with herself and council chief executive Neil Schneider.

The campaign group secured a debate in the full council meeting last week at which they aired their grievances about more than 1,000 homes being approved across Stockton South in the last two years. The meeting got so heated that former Yarm Town Council chair Jason Hadlow was ejected by security staff.