LEGAL action has been launched against a local authority over controversial plans to build housing in County Durham.

Durham County Council approved plans last year for a combined 151 new homes off Spa Road, in Gainford and off Winston Road, in Staindrop, despite objection from residents and community leaders in both villages.

Owner Raby Estates – which is owned by Lord Barnard – submitted the plans to fund work on Raby Castle.

The company hopes to add a new cafe, car park and visitor centre, as well as other improvements to the site’s walled gardens and riding school.

However, the applicant said that, in order for the work to go ahead, it needs to generate almost £3 million from proposals for 79 homes in Gainford and 72 in Staindrop.

Staindrop Parish Council and Gainford and Langton Parish Council have issued a a judicial review pre- application protocol letter to Durham County Council.

A statement from Staindrop Parish Council reads: “Following the advice of counsel, the parish council has resolved, as a first step, to write to Durham County Council requesting that the permissions are not issued and that this will be followed up with a formal judicial review pre-action protocol letter setting out the parish council’s case in full.”

A spokesperson from Gainford and Langton Parish Council said: “As a parish council we opposed the development because we felt that such a large development should not be built within the conservation area, the development did not provide enough affordable housing and we were concerned about the safety of traffic pulling onto the A67 at this point and the safety of pedestrians – particularly children – going to the local school and the recreation field. It was also felt that an opportunity was being missed to introduce traffic calming measures such as a roundabout to the western approach to the village.

“Permission was granted in December 2020 and the parish council was not happy at the way the meeting of the planning committee had been conducted.

“Both parish councils jointly instructed a barrister for advice on the legality of County Durham’s decision giving the reason of ‘Enabling Development’. As a result of the advice received a letter was sent to Durham County Council explaining the legal errors that the barrister had identified and asking them to look at their decision again.”

Stuart Timmiss, head of development and housing at Durham County Council, said: “We are committed to driving economic development and the development of new housing across County Durham.

“The application brings forward a significant visitor attraction in County Durham with the jobs and spend associated with this.

“There are always difficult balances and judgement in delivering our key strategies and the priorities set out by the Council Vision and Housing Strategy, but we remain committed to working with our communities in ensuring that all opportunities are fully explored in driving the county forward.

“We are aware of the concerns expressed by Staindrop Parish Council and Gainford and Langton Parish Council and are engaged in correspondence with their legal representatives with regard to these matters.”