THE new Conservative ruling group of a unitary authority serving 106,000 people has demonstrated residents can expect a fresh approach of “integrity and honesty” from those charged with key decisions, an Opposition group leader has claimed.

Darlington Borough Council’s Independent group leader Councillor Kevin Nicholson said the leaking of Local Plan documents by a new councillor appeared to amount to “a storm in a tea cup” and the authority’s Tory leader had responded appropriately and decisively.

While the Independent group on the council forms part of the authority’s Opposition, in an agreement with the ruling Conservatives that will be reviewed on an annual basis, both the Independent and Liberal Democrat members will be asked for their views on major issues ahead of key decisions.

Cllr Nicholson has given his support to council leader Councillor Heather Scott amid mounting claims from other Opposition councillors that more Conservative members than the new Stephenson ward member, Councillor Mike Renton, had been involved in the incident.

However, both he and Councillor Anne Marie Curry, the leader of the council’s Liberal Democrats, said they were satisfied with Cllr Scott’s explanation that it had taken time to thoroughly investigate how the unpublished papers had come to “freely circulate” among residents.

After receiving an email from Cllr Renton apologising for the incident, Cllr Scott forwarded the message to all councillors, despite having previously insisted no member of her group had been responsible for the leak.

Cllr Curry said with the number of new councillors elected to the council there were bound to be some mistakes made. She added: “If you dwell on it too long it is going to cause ructions and upset within the council.”

Cllr Nicholson said Cllr Scott had unfairly been the subject of criticism by the council’s Labour group over the length of time it took to identify the source of the leak, which followed a briefing given by council officer to Conservative members.

He said: “Cllr Scott would have got criticism if she had announced the source of the leak the very next day, with people saying she hadn’t fully looked into it. This shows the council is now willing to share details when it has got things wrong.

“She has responded with integrity and honesty. She has set the bar now - if anything happens they will be honest about it.

“It shows that the council is being a bit more transparent, no more of this spinning behind closed doors. Residents are tired of hearing about rumours and secret deals in the town hall.

“Hopefully as members we have all learned to be more careful about the information shared with us.”