THE CREATION of a masterplan aimed at transforming County Durham’s economic fortunes for a generation has been put on ice at the 11th hour in the latest delay to beset the ambitious proposals.

Durham County Council had been preparing to seek cabinet approval to consult in the New Year on a preferred option, but have decided to pause to consider what are expected to be fundamental changes from a new Government White Paper.

With the Government set to announce full details of a White Paper in January - which could fundamentally change the number of houses that councils are required to plan for – council chiefs said today they had taken the decision to pause the process.

This, they say, will ensure that residents are not consulted on a plan which may quickly become out of date and subject to further changes.

The council had to return to the early stages of creating a plan, which will guide development until 2033, after a previous draft was withdrawn following scrutiny from planning inspector Harold Stephens in 2015. He branded it unsound and over-ambitious. His report was later quashed by the High Court.

Following further consultation, the council had been due to reveal the preferred option for discussion by cabinet next Wednesday.

But indications from the Government are that the White Paper will change how local plans – such as the County Durham Plan – calculate the number and type of houses needed as well as how they are then delivered.

As the new legislation could require the council to make significant changes to the work on the plan so far, the process will now be paused until there is clarity on the proposals in the White Paper so that these can be taken into account before further consultation is carried out.

Cllr Neil Foster, Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “While we’re obviously incredibly disappointed that we cannot proceed with the plan in line with our original timescales, the decision to pause the process now is the only one we could make given the fundamental changes that may be included in the White Paper.

“It is important that people have the most up to date and robust information so that the consultation is meaningful in planning for the future of their county.”

“Publishing a plan without understanding the impact of the White Paper would be a risk which could leave the council being required to revisit parts of the process causing delay. “Instead we will reflect on the changes the Government is looking to bring forward and take the extra time we now have to ensure that the County Durham Plan is the right plan for the people who live, work and visit the county.”

The County Durham Plan will guide the amount of new development needed for housing, potential job creation and future retail spaces as well as what infrastructure is needed to support these, such as transport, schools and green spaces.