A DARLINGTON campaigner who fought to protect precious parkland has hailed a positive but "bittersweet" result.

The historic Georgian parkland around the Blackwell Grange Hotel is now "triple-protected" under the recently approved Darlington Local Plan.

Darlington Borough Council agreed in 2019 to abandon plans to build homes on the area, dubbed “the last of Darlington’s Georgian Pleasure Grounds”, dating back to 1802.

Controversial proposals to build in the grounds surrounding the grade II-star listed Blackwell Grange Hotel were removed from the then draft Local Plan.

The Parkland Heritage Network's efforts to protect the parkland were praised as "tireless" by the council.

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Michael Green from the network said the Blackwell Grange land was now protected in three ways - as urban parkland, in the "green wedge", and about half of it as a local wildlife site.

He said restoration plans were underway and the park will welcome its first public event this weekend.

However one piece of land, the "Blands Corner Triangle", remains earmarked for development.

He said: "For Blackwell it's seen as a success in terms of the number of campaign groups we represent.

"There was going to be housing at one time all around the parkland. All of that was removed.

"It's worked well. We've had tremendous support.

"This has been cross-party. There's a great understanding from all elected members of the need to protect this parkland. It's an asset for the borough.

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"It's kind of bittersweet in the sense that the triangle has been lost.

"There are people who are looking at how that can protected.

"There's a sadness that triangle wasn't saved. It's a matter of balancing economics, housing needs and the environment."

Now the network is turning its attention to restoration, enhancement and continued protection of the Blackwell parkland.

Mr Green said: "The local authority has got a restoration plan, to restore and maintain and keep it as a natural parkland.

"It's to look at what exists now, enhance that and allow public access.

"There are higher levels of protection for the future we'd like to consider.

"There's one protection that's called a local green space and the highest level is called a field in trust, which protects it for generations to come.

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"Yesterday we were working with officers from the estates department to look at their next plan and how to enhance the parkland.

"That was a really encouaging meeting. They're wanting to work with the community on the project, on promoting and enhancing what we've got.

"That will be a continuous process where we meet with officers and elected members as a community and as a community network."

The parkland will host its first public event on Saturday, an orienteering event with the Cleveland Orienteering Klub (CLOK).

"We're delighted that they're using it," added Mr Green.

Other areas have not been as fortunate, however, and controversy continues to surround the Darlington Local Plan, particularly the proposed Skerningham development.

Mr Green was at a charged council meeting where the plan was passed by a 24-20 vote.

He said: "That's what's difficult about a local plan. It's one size fits all, almost.

"It's a curate's egg, good in parts. If you don't vote for it, you lose what's been gained and it's thrown up in the air again. A gain for one is a loss for other areas."

Campaigners had produced a 130,000-word study detailing the importance of the Blackwell parkland.

Their work was praised by then Mayor of Darlington Councillor Nick Wallis Cllr Wallis as “a first-class example of local people being passionate about something in their community”.

In July 2019, council leader Cllr Heather Scott said the volume and strength of historical and environmental information put forward by the Parkland Heritage Network had highlighted the importance of protecting the area.

The document also revealed how the parkland had been based on designs by 18th century landscape architect Capability Brown and still had ridge and furrow features, indicating how it was farmed in the Middle Ages.

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