A DECISION to re-open a rural golf club this week was described as "absolutely indefensible" because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

A local councillor who farms nearby called for the Barnard Castle course to close down again.

The club, which is surrounded by livestock farms and closed-off public footpaths, has been closed following bad weather.

On Wednesday, following a management meeting, it introduced anti-foot-and-mouth disease measures and re-opened.

But Mr Phil Barber, local branch secretary of the National Farmers' Union, said the action was absolutely indefensible.

The nearest confirmed case of the disease to Teesdale is at Hamsterley, but there has been a spate of cases in neighbouring Weardale.

Teesdale district Coun Peter Stubbs, whose ward includes the golf club, was equally appalled. "It must be closed," he said, "This is something I feel very strongly about. It is putting pleasure before anything else.

"The golf club is surrounded by livestock farms and unnecessary travel should be curtailed."

Some of the land adjacent to the course is farmed by Mr Peter Needham and his wife, Barbara, of Wool House Farm, Marwood. They have a pedigree herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle and 200 breeding ewes that have just lambed, and the couple are nervous about the golf club's decision.

"Obviously we would rather they had not opened," said Mr Needham, who felt the Ministry of Agriculture should be taking a lead on such matters.

"It should not be left in the hands of lay people to make decisions like this," he said, "Either there is a foot-and-mouth crisis or there isn't.

"If there wasn't an election on May 3, Nick Brown would be calling it a crisis. It has been played down so as not to rock the boat."

Mr Needham has a licence to train horses, but is against the resumption of racing. He recently withdrew a horse that was due to race at Catterick.

Mrs Needham was concerned about the welfare and health of their animals. "I would not like to be making a bonfire of them," she said.

Club officials were curt when contacted by the D&S Times.

Club captain, Mr Sid Lowes, would only say it was a management decision.

Mr Bill Raine, secretary, said: "We have no comment" and hung up.

l The Oakleaf static caravan park beside the River Wear at Wolsingham in Weardale plans to re-open today, though it is only a field away from where 200 sheep were slaughtered.

l All susceptible animals within a three-kilometre radius of infected farms in the North of England and southern Scotland are to be slaughtered almost immediately, the agriculture minister, Mr Nick Brown, announced yesterday afternoon. Most of the animals are in Cumbria. Flocks from Longtown in Cumbria, Welshpool and Northampton are also to be removed because they are regarded as dangerous contacts.

l Foot-and-mouth round-up: page 18. See also page 5.

l Leading article: page 22