WE are in the midst of ongoing controversy in various parts of the country over the chopping down of trees, and the loss of green land, to make way for housing developments.

Darlington is just one of many examples, but the sad case of the 200-plus trees that have been felled on historic parkland on the site of the former Blackwell Grange Golf Club is a good illustration of the conflict. I would also argue that it has served up important lessons for national and local politicians.

Michael and Angela Green are at the heart of the Blackwell controversy. They are not political activists and they are not posh Nimbys, as some would have them dismissed. They are a retired, gentle couple who care passionately about their environment and feel let down by local government.

I first met Michael and Angela on a wet Easter Saturday as they stood, bedraggled, with other local residents to protest about the felling of the trees that had come as such a shock on the most attractive route into town.

They know, of course, that they can't bring back the trees, or the wildlife that has been killed or uprooted, but they are quietly and admirably determined to underline why there has been such a disconnect between local people and the planners.

Along with six other campaigners, they have now produced a survey and, again, politicians should take careful note of its findings. They got off their backsides and visited 280 households in 17 streets in Park West Ward in Darlington, asking three key questions:

1. Do you feel that you have been 'proactively engaged' and that your views have been taken into consideration for Blackwell Meadow and the historic Blackwell parkland? 99.5 per cent answered "no".

2. Would you have trust and confidence in any future planning and development on the historic Blackwell parkland? 100 per cent answered "no".

3. Would you say "no" to future development on the historic Blackwell parkland? 98 per cent answered yes.

Question one was posed in the context of a statement by Brandon Lewis, Minister of State for Housing and Planning at the Department for Communities and Local Government, in March 2016 , in response to a letter from Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, outlining local residents concerns, together with a 1,300-signature petition opposing any development on the meadows and parkland.

In his answer, Mr Lewis stated: "The Government's National Planning Strategy makes it clear that a wide section of the community should be proactively engaged in local plans, so they represent a collective vision and set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development off the area."

The bottom line is that while residents on one side of Carmel Road were "proactively engaged", those on the other side, including Michael and Angela Green, were not and woke up to the "devastation" of the felled trees.

"No one ever spoke to us about what was going to happen and that was the experience of many other residents," says Michael, 72, formerly head of the learning difficulties service in Stockton and Billingham.

"What this has shown is a complete disconnect between the local authority and local residents on what is a huge issue. Our aim is not to apportion blame but to simply find a better way so that more care is taken in future and people's views are taken into meaningful consideration. That has not been the case here."

Their comprehensive survey comes with a collection of comments from local people which can be viewed on Facebook. "Many use the language of bereavement because that's genuinely how people feel," says Angela.

It is also accompanied by a number of recommendations, principally that the strength of local feeling is taken back to the council; that an inquiry is held into the consultation process and the generalised language used to dismiss concerns over trees and wildlife; and that more proactive ways of engaging with the local community are explored.

"People are starting to listen but it's a shame that it has taken so long," says Michael.

Having spent time with them, I have no doubt that Michael and Angela Green are good people, who simply want to be constructive in finding a better way forward. Politicians and council officers would do well to listen.

LAST week's column about the latest reunion of those who served at RAF Middleton St George during World War Two evoked special memories for 92-year-old Molly Clapham, of Aldborough St John.

Molly, nee Thompson, remembered the time a Canadian airman called Paul Dunk used to visit her parents' farm at Elton and he'd discovered he had an aunt and uncle in Newcastle.

Paul was keen to visit his English relatives but, when he arrived at their house, he was warned they had a Danish visitor whose English wasn't very good. He was politely asked not to make their foreign visitor feel uncomfortable.

Upon returning to the Thompsons' farm, Paul reported: "I sure could understand the Dane...but I couldn't understand a word my aunt and uncle were saying."

MOLLY also told of the time another Canadian airman, Boris Grabb, was the only survivor when a Lancaster bomber crashed on nearby farmland.

Boris returned to England years later, sought out Molly, and she took him to meet the farmer on whose land the plane had crashed.

The farmer took one look at the ex-airman and said: "By, thou's come a lot quieter than thou came t' first time!"

HOW flattering that the Gilpin Women's Institute should describe me as a "humourist" in promotional literature ahead of my talk at Kepier Hall in Houghton-le-Spring.

It did, however, cause some consternation. One member, whose name I didn't catch, thought she was coming to listen to a "humanist" and was openly critical of the speaker-finder booking a talk about funerals.

Perhaps even more worrying, Pat Baines was under the impression that I was a "naturist" and that she may need to avert her eyes.