A FIFTEEN-year masterplan described as probably the most important economic document the North-East’s biggest council will produce has taken a major step forward.

Durham County Council’s County Durham Plan includes proposals for 31,400 houses, 500 hectares of employment land and 9,500sq metres of retail space, with the aim of creating 30,000 new jobs by 2030.

After four years of work, the council’s Labour cabinet today (Wednesday, March 19) backed the final draft, ahead of a crucial examination in public.

Ian Thompson, the corporate director for regeneration and economic development, said: “It’s probably the most important economic document that the council will produce.

“It sets the tone by which we want to deliver economic growth across the county.”

Critics say the plan focuses too heavily on Durham City, which is earmarked for 5,200 homes, two bypasses and a business hub at Aykley Heads.

But Mr Thompson said: “It sets out plans for towns and communities across the county.”

Subject to a full council meeting backing the plan next month, it will go to an examination in public this summer.

This would be the first of its kind in the country, lasting several months and costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Cabinet member Ossie Johnson said Durham was being seen as a national pacesetter, while his colleague Eddie Tomlinson said there had been “painful years” to get the plan to today, but it sent the message that Durham was “open for business.”

Deputy leader Alan Napier added: “This is about trying to improve quality of life for people living in and wanting to live in County Durham.”

The final consultation on the plan, last autumn, resulted in nearly 4,000 responses, from 1,200 people and 116 organisations.

The Friends of Durham Green Belt filed a 1,192-name petition calling for less development and the countryside to be protected.

There have also been significant campaigns against development in Ferryhill, Wheatley Hill, Trimdon Station and Bearpark.

But Coun Neil Foster, cabinet member for economic development, said: “The aim is to set the framework for a vibrant and prosperous County Durham where people want to live, work, invest and visit.

“We believe that the proposals we are putting forward represent the best and most effective way of delivering growth for our communities.”