THE first steps towards re-establishing a civic society to campaign on environmental issues in Darlington were taken last week.

Dozens of residents attended a public meeting at the Dolphin Centre on Wednesday to hear of plans to resurrect a local branch, following the closure of the last one several years ago.

The move comes in the wake of several contentious planning applications which have resulted in the loss of old buildings.

The meeting was prompted by the recent demise of Chesterfield House and Grantley, both of which were demolished to make way for housing developments.

Organiser Jenny Leeming, a chartered landscape architect, said: "We want to have some sort of voice that will be heard by the borough council in future."

Jules Brown, of the North-East Civic Trust, told the meeting that the formation of a local group could unlock the door to crucial grant aid to maintain and repair significant buildings.

"A civic society can be much more than just a group which puts forward opinions on planning applications," he said.

Urging residents to help form the group, he added: "It is about seeking active participation in the place where you live and engaging the enthusiasm you all have for Darlington."

Mr Brown said funding could be available from the National Lottery to aid the starting up of a civic society.

Among Darlington's high-profile losses lately were the 1914 Chesterfield House in Stanhope Road, which was used to accommodate doctors and nurses.

It was the subject of a campaign to save it from demolition, but that was approved in January last year.

In February 2001, approval was given for the demolition of the Victorian Grantley House, the former administrative headquarters of Farmway on Carmel Road North.

Darlington's biggest public opposition to a housing development was seen in October 2000, but the borough council went on to approve plans to build 41 flats in the grounds of Greystones on Carmel Road North.

Darlington Borough Council had planners at the meeting and a spokesman said: "Each planning application is considered on its own merits, but we are happy to talk and listen to people who have an interest in the environment."