Darlington Borough Council has been criticised for allowing a farmers' market to go ahead today, despite foot and mouth disease.

Mr Bill Oldfield, who runs restaurants in Barnard Castle and Darlington, said he was appalled at the news.

But markets manager, Mr Peter Wilson, asked: "Why not - if there is not an unacceptable risk?"

He said he expected about half of the usual 20 stallholders to turn up. They would take precautions to disinfect when leaving and returning to their properties.

"Some have said they won't come because of their own particular circumstances. One woman has a sow which is one of only 350 in the country. As she has no frozen embryos for it, she didn't want to take the risk because that particular animal would be irreplaceable.

"Others didn't want to come because they were concerned what their neighbours might think.

"Whatever the reason - whether they are coming or not - I fully respect their decisions. These people are suffering tremendously.

"They can't operate their farms but they can sell organic fruit and vegetables. They are delivering boxes around Darlington and that is no different to coming into one particular site.

"I am hoping the public will respond with a great deal of sympathy and do their best to support them."

Mr Oldfield told the D&S Times he was connected with Barnard Castle farmers' market which was immediately cancelled.

Organisers feared the opportunity to sell might outweigh common sense on the part of some producers.

"Darlington council has been putting up no entry signs on its footpaths, so surely it should have a very strong view on something as serious as this."

Describing the decision as "irresponsible and wrong", Mr Oldfield pointed out: "We are not even allowed to walk in the countryside, whether we come from the town or not. We should do everything we can to ensure we don't exacerbate the situation."

l Darlington Borough Council has reversed its decision to allow walkers with dogs alongside farmland at Broken Scar and Low Coniscliffe.

The trading standards department was challenged by the D&S Times when it made the public announcement during the first week of the foot and mouth outbreak.

A spokesman said it had consulted with the local National Farmers' Union over the decision. All rural footpaths had been closed with those two exceptions which would allow people some freedom of movement.

It was only on Monday, when the council confirmed warning signs banning entry had been torn down at Broken Scar, that it was clear the council had had a change of mind.

At first it was thought - because there were no animals on the land bordering the River Tees - that the situation was safe.

"Later we realised animals were wintering in the barns and there was the possibility of cross infection," said a spokesman for trading standards. "There were dog prints along the pathway near the farm. Rather than take a risk we decided to close the area entirely. People have been ignoring the notices, so we have padlocked the gate."

Access was initially allowed along the Tees at Low Coniscliffe until it was discovered there were deer in the woods.

Mr Richard Watts, local NFU officer, said he welcomed the council's decision to close both areas.

"There are 191 outbreaks now," he said on Tuesday. "It certainly doesn't get any better.

"Farmers in my district are getting more and more depressed. One I spoke to this morning is virtually surrounded by other farms with foot and mouth. It is awful.