A COUNCIL has received criticism and plaudits as its leading members pushed forward changes to its Local Plan ahead of authority deciding upon the key blueprint later this month.

A meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s corporate board heard some residents claim the planned removal of the Springfield Park access road from the plan had raised major questions over the proposed area for Skerningham Garden Village.;

Others heralded a decision to protect a historic parkland.

The authority’s economy portfolio holder Councillor Alan Marshall said the Local Plan was essential to ensure the development needs of Darlington are managed in a controlled way, but warned without the plan, the council’s five-year housing supply would quickly run out, leaving the area open to uncontrolled development again.

He said: “The success of our town is predicated on growth that underpins the future vibrancy of our town centre and our communities.”

However, the meeting heard one resident claim the planned removal of the Springfield Park access road had raised major questions over the proposed area for Skerningham Garden Village.

Officers replied that all the sites that had been allocated in the Local Plan had been considered “sound and acceptable”, but anybody had the right to challenge the council’s findings before the document was given government approval.

The meeting repeatedly heard claims that Conservative councillors had won votes at last May’s elections on the basis that they would oversee significant changes to the previous Labour administration’s Local Plan.

Ralph Bradley, of Whinfield Residents Association, told the meeting its members were opposed to the proposals for Skerningham as they felt it would have a negative impact on their community and increase road safety risks.

He said: “Many excellent points have been raised as to why the Local Plan is not fit for purpose. I don’t intend to add to them because it would take all night.

“The current administration of the council is about to approve a Local Plan that the residents of Darlington don’t want. We had hoped that a change of administration would make sweeping changes to the Local Plan. I’m afraid they have failed to do so.”

Green group leader Councillor Matthew Snedker added: “There is a bit of an air of disbelief that we have got a plan has been through a local election and out the other side more or less unchanged despite many assurances and conversations on the doorstep that that wouldn’t be the case.”

Labour group leader Councillor Stephen Harker said the Conservative administration had created “a lot of confusion over the plan” for residents.

However, while the meeting heard some residents questioning officers over details in the plan had repeatedly been left frustrated and believing there was a lack of transparency over the blueprint, others praised the council for its openness and for the time officers and members spent carefully listening to issues to gain a full understanding.

Angela and Michael Green, Parkland Heritage Network, Friends of the Earth said changes at the historic Blackwell Grange parkland to introduce a protective boundary reflected the views of many residents.

They said while the parkland has 89 heritage assets of significance, by removing a development site from the Local Plan the council aimed to ensure only four of the assets would be lost.

Cllr Marshall dismissed claims that the plan had been created by housing developers and defended the council’s decision to hold information events for residents to highlight the results of a Skerningham traffic modelling study.