COUNCIL bosses behind a contentious masterplan to shape developments across a borough until 2036 have been pressed to put the delay-hit blueprint on hold again to ensure everyone’s up-to-date views are aired.

As the Conservative-led Darlington Borough Council launched a statutory six-week period for residents or organisations to make comments for the Planning Inspectorate to consider as it examines the proposed Local Plan, opposition parties sounded cautions that people being on summer holidays and others still shielding from coronavirus could mean some voices are not heard.

Numerous members of the authority raised the concerns while stating they appreciated the Local Plan’s progress had been postponed several times, that it had taken four years to develop so far and needed to be brought forward soon.

However, they said ensuring people had ample opportunity to comment on decisions that would affect everyone’s lives was of paramount importance, particularly given the controversy surrounding key elements of the plan, including proposals to build huge housing developments on greenfield sites.

Labour group leader Councillor Stephen Harker said Covid-19 had caused many people to think again about open spaces and town centres and big questions had emerged over what they should look like.

He said: “Irrespective of whether we think the Local Plan is right, there’s a question over whether people will have the opportunity to have their input. Is there a rush that we need to do it in August in the middle of the holiday season?”

In a letter to all councillors, Liberal Democrat Hilary Allen warned the six-week consultation would be the final chance for people to shape the borough’s blueprint until 2036.

She said: “This is a matter that will affect future generations of Darlington residents and I do not believe it should be taken lightly, or be rushed through.

“Please, councillors, do not think that we can review it in five years. We can – but not in the way you think. The only thing we will be reviewing is whether or not we have built what we said we would build.”

People’s ability to “make their voice heard properly” could be hampered further if lockdown restrictions were to return, Green Party group leader Councillor Matthew Snedker added.

When asked about the concerns, Councillor Alan Marshall, the authority’s economy portfolio holder, said the arrangements for the consultation were in line with government advice.