A NEW action group, formed to stave off a continuing wave of planning applications for flats in Eaglescliffe, holds its first public meeting today.

The Eaglescliffe Preservation Action Group wants to open up debate over growing worries that the character of Eaglescliffe is being destroyed.

Its members object to developers who are buying up houses with large gardens and demolishing them to make way for blocks of flats.

Stockton South MP, Dari Taylor, who shares residents' concerns, has accepted an invitation to speak at the meeting, held at Preston and Eaglescliffe Social Club, Albert Road, at 5.45.

Norman Douglas, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, will also speak.

Mrs Taylor has backed Egglescliffe Parish Council's long-running campaign to have a loophole plugged in a Government policy guidance.

PPG3 urges builders to build on brownfield sites, but the parish council and many residents feel this is being abused by developers.

Parish council clerk Helen Rennison said: "Family homes in their own gardens are perceived as previously developed sites, giving the developers the chance to demolish those houses and rebuild with flats.

"We don't object to new buildings, but we don't want quality family homes in their own gardens seen as previously developed. That is a loophole we want stopping up.''

Mrs Taylor said: "This part of my constituency has beautiful Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and there is a grave concern that policy planning guidelines are being used to replace this with high density flats.

"It is crucial to get things right to protect the character of Egglescliffe and Eaglescliffe."

Vicki Thompson, spokeswoman for EPAG, said: "There is talk today of a shared vision. We want to share our views on what is proposed for our area.

"One NorthEast wants to raise the profile of the region. We want to raise the profile of this area, where Eaglescliffe and Yarm are jewels in the crown.

"We have to stop what is going on and protect what we have got."

She added: "The idea is to have a balanced meeting. It's not going to be an aggressive meeting, but to give everyone a chance to have their say.''