A CAMPAIGN against plans to move a much-loved landmark statue is probably the biggest public protest a city has ever seen, leaders claim.

A petition calling for the statue of Lord Londonderry on horseback to retain its position in Durham Market Place has attracted more than 5,500 signatures.

John Charters and Douglas Pocock, the chairman and honorary secretary of the City of Durham Trust conservation group, presented the bundles of names to officials at Durham County Council’s offices in Claypath, Durham, yesterday.

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In years gone by, the trust has campaigned against plans for a power station larger than Durham Cathedral near the city centre and a 16- storey tower next to the River Wear.

But Dr Charters said: “I think this is the biggest popular protest Durham has ever seen.

“I would be surprised if any petition has attracted as many signatures as this.

“It shows the depth of popular feeling on this issue. The public are overwhelmingly with us.

“I’ve met less than a dozen people who agree the statue should be moved.”

Durham City Vision wants to move the statue across the Market Place as part of its £5.25m Heart of the City project, aimed at helping the city host more high-profile events.

Dr Pocock said trustees were adamant the statue was central to the Market Place and the Vision’s goals could be achieved without moving it.

He said: “The Vision want to clear the space for events.

“We think the Market Place should be a place of business.”

Planning papers reveal other objectors to the proposals include residents, CKM Solicitors and a woman from Saskatoon, Canada, who visited Durham when a wooden mock-up of the statue was erected in its planned new position, earlier this year.

More than 4,300 people have backed a campaign on the Facebook social networking website.

Vision officials also plan to move a statue of Neptune and make changes to paving, lighting and seating.

A public consultation on the scheme closes today and councillors will debate it in the coming months.

Durham City Vision did not respond to requests for a comment last night.

Last month, director Harvey Dowdy said the Market Place had to change to provide a proper gateway to the World Heritage Site of Durham Castle and Cathedral.