VILLAGERS have applied for open space under threat of development by their council to be declared a village green.

Durham City Council is selling off plots of land it owns to developers and using the proceeds to fund regeneration in the villages around the city.

One of them is at the rear of Falkous Terrace and Newton Street, in Witton Gilbert ward of the council's Liberal Democrat leader Fraser Reynolds - and residents are fighting to save it being built on.

They have applied to Durham County Council for the site to be designated a village green, which would bar development and preserve villagers' rights to use the land.

Since the application was lodged, the city council has put up a fence to stop people getting on to the land in a move that could make it harder for them to meet the criteria for village green status.

"People used the site in the summer to sit on the bench," said William Jarvis, one of the residents behind the village green application.

"I often walk the dogs or sit and read a book in the sun . It is a well-used facility, which the council has removed by putting a fence up.

"It is highly undemocratic to take away an amenity like that and sell it off to the highest bidder for housing.

"The reason they are doing it is to pay for the new swimming pool they are building in Durham."

Councillor Reynolds said money from the sell-off would not go towards the new pool, but would go to the council's flourishing communities fund to which organisations in outlying villages ineligible for state regeneration funding could apply.

He said new housing would help regenerate the village.

Coun Reynolds said the school was under threat a couple of years ago and there were sports fields nearby for people to enjoy.

Coun Reynolds said people rejected the parish council's offer of a children's play park on the site about ten years ago.

And he added: "We put up the fence to protect the council's interest because of the village green application. It is a shame as they could have continued to use it until it was sold."

A county council spokesman said an application had been received and would be considered in due course.