VILLAGERS opposing a businessman who has fenced off a communal play area have launched a campaign to reclaim the land.

Mr Kevin Tiplady, of KT Horticulture in Great Langton, near Northallerton, last month enclosed a piece of unregistered land in the heart of the village which has been used as a play area and bonfire site for decades. He has locked the gates, barring people from the site.

The move caused uproar as residents were half way through a programme of turning the patch of land into a park. Villagers had planned to build a soft play area for youngsters and put in benches.

In retaliation, about ten people have formed a group called the Friends of the village and removed the gates under the cover of darkness. Mr Tiplady responded by erecting a new gate, held in place with a heavy steel tipper bucket.

The D&S Times met two representatives of the group who asked to remain anonymous.

The group's spokesman told of villagers' upset at being barred from the communal site. "Every family in the village had planted its own tree in there," he said. "There is one three-year-old boy who planted a tree with his parents and he can't go and see it now. He is devastated."

The Friends of the village also criticised Mr Tiplady for leaving a retired couple unable to get to the back of their house, which borders the disputed land. "There are historic documents which show they have a right of way through there," said the spokesman.

"They are an elderly couple and with the gate fenced off, they cannot get to their back gate or get oil deliveries to their tank in the garden."

The parish meeting of Great Langton is attempting to trace old deeds for the land in a bid to prevent Mr Tiplady from claiming it. In the meantime, the Friends of the village have vowed to continue their campaign.

Mr Tiplady denied any knowledge of the dispute and declined to comment further