A DEBATE over the number of houses which should be built in a borough appears to have intensified as a member of a council’s ruling group admitted his party was divided over the issue.

Councillor Alan Marshall, Darlington Borough Council’s economy and regeneration portfolio holder has issued an apology after claiming the authority’s Conservative group all wanted to see a target of almost 10,000 new homes in the borough by 2036 included in the authority’s forthcoming Local Plan.

At a full meeting of the authority last week his predecessor, Councillor Chris McEwan, had questioned Cllr Marshall over whether there was unanimity among the Conservative group over the 10,000 homes figure, which has been repeatedly disputed by campaigners.

Campaigners, including the Green Party, have said the objectively assessed need for housing in Darlington Local Plan period is 177 households a year as opposed to the current proposed target of 492 homes a year, or 9,840 by 2036.

They claim council officers have miscalculated the projected housing need.

In response to Cllr McEwan’s question, Cllr Marshall said: “The housing figures which are in the local plan are evidenced with hard evidence and I am entirely convinced all of our group – there are some people who have asked questions about the numbers without a shadow of a doubt – are 100 per cent behind the numbers in the local plan and will support our officers as they go for public examination.”

However, following the meeting Cllr Marshall posted an apology on the Darlington Conservatives Facebook page saying Tory councillors had differences of opinion over what the borough’s future housing need.

The message stated: “At council on Thursday, in my response to a question regarding housing numbers in the Local Plan, I made an error by stating that the Conservative Group was 100 per cent behind the housing numbers shown in the plan.

“This was incorrect. I am fully aware that there are a number of Conservative members within the Group who do have reservations about these numbers, and I failed to identify this in my response. I recognise that has caused some embarrassment and I apologise to those members affected unreservedly.”

Following the Facebook posting the authority’s Opposition leader, Councillor Stephen Harker said when the previous Labour administration had approved the 9,840 homes target it had been based on figures which were “a best estimate” at the time.

He said no evidence had been given to his party to signal that the target should be changed.