FARMERS staged a peaceful protest at the opening of a £7m bypass yesterday, claiming they still owned a stretch of the road.

Two years after they received a compulsory purchase order from Durham County Council, brothers Nigel and Peter Raine said they have not been paid for their land.

They parked their tractor across an end of the new West Auckland bypass, in County Durham, yesterday morning while the official opening ceremony was taking place at the other.

The council said the protest had not delayed the opening of the road to the public - because it was not ready.

And even after the brothers, who run nearby Brusselton Farm, left at 2pm, workmen were putting up signs in advance of a final safety check by contractors Balfour Beatty.

Traffic was eventually allowed on at 4pm.

Children from Copeland Road, St Helen Auckland and Oakley Cross primary schools had helped West Auckland councillor Sonny Douthwaite, the county's cabinet member for highways, open the road, but a vintage car parade was turned back at the Hummerbeck roundabout halfway along the 1.5-mile stretch.

Nigel Raine said: "As far as we are concerned, we still own the land because we have not been paid.

"They told us to get off within 14 days, which is standard procedure, but we don't think it is right that they have opened the road without us getting our money."

Other landowners are understood to be also waiting for payment.

Peter Raine said: "Some don't mind, but we do and this is our only chance to protest. We don't want to inconvenience people, so we won't stay all day."

The brothers were eventually given a letter that said they would be paid within six weeks and also addressed concerns about fencing and drainage.

Burney Johnson, the council's head of highway design, said yesterday: "The farmers' action did not delay or threaten to delay the opening of the bypass in any way or to any extent.

"The road was not due to open until early this evening.

"A team from Balfour Beatty was on its way from Leeds to carry out a final pre-opening safety review of the road and was not due to undertake that until this afternoon.

"The delay in making payment to the farmers was because we were still waiting on confirmation of title to the land from their representatives before making final settlement.

"We met him this morning and the matter has been resolved."

Peter Raine said: "They didn't need the title because they were only buying part of our land.

"Why did they wait two years to bring this up?"