VILLAGERS living in the shadow of a redundant cement works are calling it for it to be demolished.

People in Eastgate, in Weardale, County Durham, are pressing Lafarge Cement to start clearing the 400-acre site where 147 people lost their jobs last year.

A plan to create a sustainable energy centre attracting thousands of visitors a year is a key element in a Task Force strategy for restoring prosperity to the valley following a series of job cuts and the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic.

But residents told a meeting with the force, including senior Lafarge managers, that the plant was an eyesore which had blighted their lives for 40 years.

Caravan site owner Alan Gibbons said: "People want to know when it is going to be cleared.

"While it was operating it was an eyesore, but at least it was a profitable eyesore which provided jobs.

"Now, it detracts from the attractiveness of the area and it has to go. We can't wait five or ten years for the planning process and everything else to take its course.

"We are not against development, but it must be high quality. You won't get the support of people here until the blight is removed."

Works manager Peter Greeno said decommissioning work at the plant was on target and equipment was still being moved out to other plants.

He said: "We will stand by our obligations. We will not walk away."

Consultation on the Task Force's Weardale strategy ends next week.

At Eastgate, a new limited company or trust would lead development of a model village - dubbed an Eco-Disneyland - containing homes, holiday accommodation, bus- iness units and a visitor centre. Profits from energy sales would be ploughed back in.

Task Force chairman John Hamilton said: "Hundreds of millions of pounds are being put into developing renewable energy to meet Government targets over the next two decades.

"If you ask where the money will come from, it is there."

The closure of the works was one of the main reasons that prompted The Northern Echo to launch its Working For a Future campaign, which aims to help re-build a brighter and more prosperous future for Weardale.

A report on people's views will go to the group's next meeting on Wednesday, October 22.

Read more about the Working for a Future campaignhere.