A COUNCIL leader who was branded an “environmental fascist” has accused volunteers of being vicious and vindictive in their quest to restore a town park.

Councillor Bob Fleming said the chairman of the Friends of West Park’s reference to fascism in relation to Great Aycliffe Town Council’s approach to the restoration of the park was highly offensive.

But, at a meeting on Wednesday (September 3), the council’s recreation committee agreed to continue working with the voluntary group to revamp the park, in Newton Aycliffe

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Since February, the Friends of West Park have been planting bulbs and clearing rubbish and weeds from the park’s former boating lake, which they hope can be returned to recreational use.

The council, which owns the park, encouraged the project but concerns about the effect of weed removal on biodiversity prompted the clerk to send a letter stating it must cease immediately.

Ken Robson, chairman of Friends of West Park, questioned why a “smelly green swamp” had been re-classed as a nature pond and publicly described elite councillors as “environmental fascists.”

He later apologised, stating he meant fanatics not fascists, and other members distanced themselves from the comment.

At the meeting, Cllr Fleming said: “I expect to be called names but I take offence at being called a fascist. That is a term which is beyond the pale.”

He said he some volunteers had been aggressive towards council officers and accused them of launching a “vindictive, vitriolic and vicious campaign” via email and social media.

Councillor Arun Chandran proposed a motion that the park be primarily viewed as a recreation amenity, with wildlife a welcome addition.

He said the lake should be managed for recreational purposes and said the friends should be allowed to continue clearing weeds and rubbish from the water.

However, it was an amended motion put forward by Cllr Fleming that was approved. This retained the park’s primary purpose as a recreation facility but upheld the clerk’s letter regarding weed clearing.

It said ecology experts would be consulted about the lake and the council would investigate alternate ways of dredging it.

The council will continue to work with the Friends but no decision has been made about boats.

Father-of-five Martin Ashcroft was one of many local residents who attended the meeting.

“I have fond childhood memories of playing with a remote control boat in the lake,” he said. “I want my children to be able to enjoy this too.”