SHELTERING under a kaleidoscope of umbrellas, their feet almost ankle-deep in mud, rain lashing against their mackintoshes, a small band of protesters gathered on Easter Saturday.

What could have prompted this dedicated demonstration?

Were they protesting about Government cuts to education, leading to increased class sizes?


Perhaps about the draconian cuts to local authorities, leading to cutbacks and drug and alcohol services, and such sweeping cuts to domestic violence services that refuges for vulnerable women are under threat?


The thing that united this small, faithful, ardent band was the sheer number of trees - almost 200, they think – which have been cut down to facilitate the building of 59 houses by Story Homes on the former Blackwell Grange Golf Course in Darlington.

The 'butchery', as they have called it, had full planning permission. But the sheer number of trees was not spelled out in the original plans - rather, clusters of trees.

The golf course and surrounding area once provided a leafy, tree-lined entrance to the town from the west side.

Now, in the words of one protester, it looks rather like a freak tornado hit a small patch of Blackwell one day last month.

Every housing development has its 'Not in my back yard' groups, or Nimbys as they are condescendingly known, but since the Government relaxed planning rules nationwide to try to tackle the housing crisis in the South-East, more and more of our countryside is being eaten up to meet perceived demand.

Yes, there's a housing crisis, but the cynic in me can't help thinking our Conservative ministers have been at the receiving end of some very effective lobbying by major housing developers.

Build homes, and you create a lot of work and boost the economy, at least in the short-term, by creating trade jobs.

Relax the previously strict planning rules, and build in desirable village locations and on green fields, and the developers boost their coffers even more.

You can drive a route from one side of Yarm in Teesside to the other side of Middlesbrough and meet building sites for new homes at least every mile or two.

Councils have to meet fixed housing demands due to the shortage of homes in densely-populated areas. But building homes in Yarm, and Hurworth, isn't going to solve the lack of homes in London.

And all the while peaceful neighbourhoods are turning into battlegrounds, village folk dismayed by the green fields behind them being churned up and built on.

At Blackwell, green campaign groups with more experience of protesting, such as Friends of the Earth and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, are on board with the locals.

And momentum is gathering across the town. If nothing else, this kind of anger will encourage people to look at planning applications more closely, mobilise in protest, and become more active in local politics.

And perhaps start protesting at the kind of cutbacks which can devastate people's lives.