A DISABLED man and his wife have been told to rip up a driveway built to provide ambulance access to their home because councillors feel it spoils a pretty village scene.

Sedgefield Borough Council's development control committee refused to grant retrospective planning permission to Mary and Terence Lee for a flagged approach to their home in Tudhoe Village, near Spennymoor.

Councillors felt that replacing a 9m-long strip of grass with hard standing had destroyed the look of a conservation area which prides itself on unspoilt village greens.

The couple's daughter, Bernadette Lee, pleaded with councillors last Friday to let her parents, both in their mid-70s, keep the driveway.

She said it allows better access for medics who visit three times a day to care for her father - who has had several strokes - than the communal courtyard shared by ten homes on the development.

Miss Lee said: "For 100 years, there was an ash road to that building, when it was a blacksmiths, which was uncovered when the work was done.

"The land doesn't belong to anyone and we took advice from solicitors. We believed we were okay to do this, and never intended to cause this situation."

About 15 villagers supported the application, saying the drive does not look out of place, and that the couple should be allowed access to improve their quality of life.

But planning officers said the drive "demonstrably detracts from the character and appearance of the Tudhoe Village Conservation Area".

Colin Whittle, of Tudhoe Village Residents' Association, said the group sympathised with Mr Lee's condition, but felt ample access could be gained from the rear forecourt.

He said: "Any reduction of grassed area cannot be said to enhance the character or appearance of the village. We live in a beautiful village and want to keep it that way."

Tony Smith, a resident for 23 years, echoed the concerns of planning officers who feared that granting permission would open the floodgates to similar applications.

He said: "The 15 letters of support received are indicative of the potential problems, not only in Tudhoe, but in conservation areas across the borough."

The council has served an enforcement notice for the grass to be restored.