VILLAGERS are gearing up to fight to save their green patch of open space early in the New Year.

The people of Pittington, near Durham, believe the stretch of land at Coalford Lane should be officially designated as "village green".

They claim the reclaimed former colliery land, owned by Durham County Council, has been used as a public open space for generations.

An application by Pittington parish council was submitted to County Hall, Durham, recently stating the case for village green status.

The deadline for representations has now passed and the county council's legal experts will spend several weeks looking into the application before it is put before councillors for consideration.

Meanwhile, the parish council is preparing for a more immediate threat to the open space, with a public inquiry pending into a bid to build a housing complex on the site.

Durham Aged Mineworkers' Homes Association (Damha) wants to develop an eight-bungalow complex on Coalford Lane.

The application was turned down by Durham City Council earlier this year, but Damha has lodged an appeal which will be heard at the inquiry, at Durham Town Hall, starting on January 9.

Damha claims there is a need for housing for the elderly in the village and is confident there will be plenty of would-be residents eager to move into the complex.

But parish council chairman Bill Kellett said there is no reason for the site to be built on.

"This application hasn't gone down well in the village. If housing was to be built on the site it would wreck the village."

Parish clerk Peter McCutcheon, four generations of whose family have lived near the site, said many people remember it being used by the public.

"I remain optimistic about this because the underlying thing is that the land has been used by the public as far back as people can remember," he said. It was only reclaimed in the 1980s, but it was used long before that for things like fairs, and the local bonfire on Guy Fawkes' Night."

Mr McCutcheon said that the county council's estates department and Damha are, "not surprisingly", the only two objectors to the village green application