VILLAGERS campaigning to have a popular woodland walk re-opened celebrated this week after council officers promised to make the landowner take down its barricades.

Protesters in Blackfyne, near Consett, have gathered more than 500 signatures from residents, calling for the footpath linking Aynsley Terrace to Consett Heritage Park to be re-opened.

Medomsley-based property developer Strathmore Homes angered villagers when it closed off the path and erected an eight feet high chipboard fence around an adjoining woodland area, just before Christmas.

The firm bought the land last year as part of the former Derwentside College complex in Park Road, which is to be developed as executive housing. The company says it needs the security fence in place for health and safety requirements while the demolition of the old college is carried out.

This week, officers at Derwentside District Council confirmed they are to issue an enforcement notice, demanding that the fence is taken down.

Greg Coltman, 27, spokesman for the protesters, said: "It is about time that the council sprang into action over this. The developer has started putting boards up completely blocking off the path. It is very demoralising - some residents feel that we have lost the battle already."

Peter Reynolds, director of environmental services for the council, said: "We have taken legal advice on the issues and believe we have strong grounds for challenging the situation."

He said it could be a lengthy process, as the council has a legal duty to both involve all parties concerned with the land and allow the developer the opportunity to appeal.

Last week, Strathmore announced plans to give residents a new, landscaped footpath and cycleway, to replace the lost path.

James Johnston, company director, said: "We tried wire fencing, but on several occasions, it was pulled down. Some of the trees are dangerous. If something happened to someone on our site, the Health and Safety Executive would want to know if we had taken steps that were reasonably practicable to prevent an accident."

The firm is expected to submit a detailed planning application for the old college site next week, which will include the footpath and a 'managed woodland' along with a housing estate.

The protesters are holding a public open-air meeting with planning officers and councillors in Aynsley Terrace on Sunday, at 2pm.