CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to turn common land into a car park claim such drastic changes would first need to approved by the Government.

The Save Our Sands (SOS) Action Group is opposing proposals that could see nearly half of The Sands riverside area in Durham being turned into a temporary parking space for 380 cars.

The area would be used for parking while the Walkergate leisure development is built on another temporary car park nearby. Durham City Council lodged the plans because it feared the loss of parking spaces will hit city traders badly.

But residents claim it would be an illegal use of common land.

David Williams, a retired lecturer from The Sands, said they had contacted Government officials and were told proposed changes to common land must go before the Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

He said a committee of residents registered the area as common land in 1968 and added: "Common land means you can't build on it. You can't fence it, you can't stop people walking across it. It's a public right of way."

Durham City Council said rights of way, and the access to the area for 'air and exercise' as specified in legislation governing use of common land, would be maintained during the lifetime of the temporary car park.

But many traders in the city are more concerned that the parking spaces are maintained.

Colin Wilkes, managing director of Durham Markets Company and chairman of Durham City Forum, said: "A loss of 350 spaces in Walkergate - without being able to replace them on a temporary basis - would be catastrophic for traders, particularly market traders.

"We're absolutely desperate not to lose that amount of car parking space."

* The SOS Action Group has organised a family fundraising picnic on the site from 1pm on Sunday. There will be games for children.