WORK to clear vegetation to prepare for improvements to a culvert has sparked fears that a council is backtracking on its agreement to save a piece of suburban open space.

In April last year householders on Old Gates Drive in Blackburn were furious that the borough council had agreed to sell the former all-weather pitch for St Bede’s Roman Catholic High School McDermott Homes.

The developer planned to use it for an access road to their proposed new estate of 29 new houses at nearby Lomond Garden.

In June the executive board of Blackburn with Darwen Council halted the sale until a planning application for the scheme and its access had been considered.

Yesterday council staff moved onto the land to start preparation for the culvert alarming residents that it was the beginning of work on the access road.

Livesey with Pleasington ward's Cllr Derek Hardman said: "I am angry councillors and residents were not given prior notice of this scheme.

"A number of residents believe this is a back door way of putting the road through for housing. Work was previously completed on the culvert accessed from Green Lane. The culvert upgrade is welcomed but destroying public open space is not acceptable."

Rick Moore, deputy chair of Feniscowles and Cherry Tree Residents Association, said: "Some trees have been cut down. Due to the recent attempt to re-appropriate this land for access to a potential new housing development there is concern this land will not be returned to public open space."

Cllr Phil Riley, Blackburn with Darwen Council's regeneration boss, said: "This is work to enlarge and improve a culvert to relieve flooding problems caused by last year's storms. It will be of great benefit to residents.

"It is nothing to do with the McDermott Homes planning application and no trees have been cut down."