TENSIONS rose at a planning meeting in which a councillor described a proposed accommodation development for vulnerable youngsters as being like an “open prison”.
The comment was made by Councillor Gerald Lee at a Darlington Borough Council planning committee meeting in which an application to build six log cabins in Hurworth Moor, off Neasham Road, was approved.
The cabins will primarily house pregnant young women, or young parents, who are considered vulnerable for reasons such as mental health problems and learning difficulties.
Councillors were told at the meeting that the site would be monitored by cameras 24 hours a day to minimise the chance of anti-social behaviour at the site.
Occupants would also have to adhere to strict night-time curfews and agree to work with necessary agencies if they wanted to remain on site.
Families could live in the cabins for anywhere between six months and two years, depending on how they progressed and when social agencies deemed them ready for re-integration into wider society.
The application received 57 letters of objection and a similar proposal was turned down in 2006.
The meeting was told that special transport would be laid on for the cabins' occupants when they needed to access amenities, but Cllr Lee spoke out against the scheme.
He said: “There are no pavements, the site isn’t on a bus route, there are no facilities locally for the occupants of the cabins.
“Whilst I accept that a coach will be laid on to take them to and from the site, we must not forget we are talking about young people, young ladies and men who probably want that extra bit of flexibility to go into Darlington and go into Stockton when they want.
“That application is very similar, is very much, to that of an open prison.
“At the end of the day any young parent, young people, within these cabins will only get access to the town and to the facilities when a bus is put on.”
Cllr Lee’s remark sparked objections from some fellow councillors, while others accused members of playing politics.
Chair of the meeting, Cllr Paul Baldwin, denied that anybody was playing politics and said he wanted to put it right that the application was nothing like an open prison.
Cllr Lee said that he was entitled to his opinion and it was not up to Cllr Baldwin to put it right.
The application was approved with a majority vote.