CAMPAIGNERS fighting against changes to part of the historic centre of Darlington pledged last night that they would be ready for their most important date yet.

Darlington Civic Trust has spent months battling against the proposed demolition of the three-tiered steps, bal-ustrades and railings on High Row.

The organisation, which champions the town's heritage features, has long insisted that it has no argument against improvements to the area - but it says some elements of the borough council's plans have caused concern.

In a six-page letter to planners, the trust outlined why it felt the four planning applications being considered on Wednesday should be rejected.

Members will follow that up by showing a DVD about High Row at the crucial planning meeting. They are hopeful that their efforts will be enough to influence committee members.

The weight that a 4,635-name petition submitted by the trust will carry at the meeting could be a bone of contention.

Council bosses have previously warned that, as most signatures were collected before the planning applications for the scheme were submitted on January 21, the petition may be invalid.

Questions about its validity are mentioned in detailed reports that have already been submitted to councillors.

Trust vice-chairman Clive Owen said: "We'll be keen to hear what advice the council's solicitor gives the committee."

The organisation has previously hinted that it may take legal action if its petition is not recognised by the authority.

Mr Owen said: "What the committee does will determine what we will do next. We are consulting with a barrister and we'll be ready for Wednesday."

The trust's letter of objection stated: "The degradation of High Row over the years has been due to inadequate funding and maintenance by both the present and former highway authorities.

"It looks cluttered and rundown today because the borough council has not treated High Row as a conservation project with appropriate professional and financial support."

It is an accusation the council refutes, with officials preferring to concentrate on what they say will be a bright and prosperous future for the town as a result of the £6.5m pedestrian heart scheme.

The authority is adamant that the proposals will help Darlington close the gap on its regional retail rivals, with the perfect shopping environment available for residents and visitors.

* The council's planning committee meeting takes place in the town hall on Wednesday, at 1.30pm.