From Rob Merrick, 'MPs urge Minister to get "vital" County Durham Plan back on track', Darlington & Stockton Times (4 June):
GETTING a derailed economic master plan for part of the region “back on track” must be a priority for the new Government, MPs say.
County Durham MPs have joined forces to urge the new Local Government Secretary to intervene to help rescue the County Durham Plan (CDP) from paralysis.
The county council hopes to create an economic powerhouse by 2030, by delivering 30,000 new jobs, 31,400 new homes, new retail and employment land and two new bypasses.
But, earlier this year, planning inspector Harold Stephens horrified business leaders by savaging the 20-year ‘local plan’ as flawed and unrealistic.
The council was ordered back to the drawing board by the inspector – slamming the brakes on a five-year process that has cost the taxpayer several hundred thousand pounds.
Now Greg Clark, the Teesside-born new local government secretary, has been urged to step into the row, to “try to get the process back on track”.
Mr Clark has been asked to meet with all the MPs – Kevan Jones (Durham North), Pat Glass (Durham North West), Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland), Grahame Morris (Easington) and Phil Wilson (Sedgefield).
The letter reads: “The Plan has, at its heart, a vision for growth and commitment to improve the quality of life of local residents, by significantly boosting levels of economic performance.
“To achieve this vision, the Council has identified the need for 30,000 new and better jobs as well as a requirement for 31,400 new homes.
“The inspector’s views were unexpected as he had not raised any fundamental concerns during the examination process.”
The letter comes after Durham County Council took the highly unusual step of seeking a judicial review of the inspector’s conclusions.
Papers were filed at the High Court in Leeds this week, triggering consideration by a judge as to whether the council's case is worth a hearing.
The council believes the legal fight is a far cheaper option than producing a new plan, hoping the court will order a new examination-in-public, with a new inspector, before the end of 2016.
Mr Jones – who organised the letter – added: “The County Durham Plan is vital for the county’s future.
“We’ve heard much rhetoric from ministers in the last few weeks about the importance of its ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Now is the time for them to act and move this Plan forward.”
Before the election, Penny Mordaunt, then a local government minister, gave the campaign for the Plan a boost when she declared it had “the right ambition”.
That led the council to ask Mr Stephens to reopen the examination to address its concerns. However, the inspector refused - prompting the bid for a judicial review.