RESIDENTS battling to save a suburban open space are in a furious new row with a council over works on the threatened land.

Householders on Old Gates Drive in Blackburn believe the authority is backtracking on its agreement to halt building an access road to a proposed estate of 29 houses at nearby Lomond Gardens.

But Blackburn with Darwen Council says the works are nothing to do with the proposal but necessary for essential drainage improvements.

The dispute is a rerun of one in October when residents complained about the clearing of vegetation on the site.

Tory regeneration spokesman Cllr Paul Marrow has written to the town hall suggesting that the culvert upgrade be halted until a planning application for the development is decided.

In April 2019 the householders were furious that the council had agreed to sell the former all-weather pitch for St Bede’s RC High School to McDermott Homes to build an access road to their proposed estate.

In June, the borough's executive board halted the sale until a planning application for the scheme and its access had been considered and has asked for residents' views with a deadline this week.

Following the arrival of workmen and equipment in the last few days, protest leader Kevin Allcock says local people are furious.

He said: "It feels like 'Groundhog Day', but a year on from the last underhand sneakiness by the council, they really have cheesed off local residents with their latest flagrant disregard for procedure.

"Council staff destroyed the wildlife and trees on the public access land earlier this week before local residents could have their objections recognised.

"They are using the ruse of Covid to totally run roughshod over local democracy.

"This is all a smokescreen. Residents do not believe this work is for drainage improvements but a start on the access road they promised to delay until the planning application had been considered.

"I believe these actions have caused illegal, wilful damage."

Martin Kelly, the council's director of place, said: “There is no link between the drainage works underway on land off Old Gates Drive and a planning application for the neighbouring site.

“The application for a residential development on land off Lomond Gardens, which includes provision of a footpath link through the open space to Old Gates Drive, will be considered at a future meeting of the council’s Planning and Highways Committee.

“The drainage work currently underway is part of a scheme to help protect 26 homes on Old Gates Drive from flooding.

"Our contractors have created a new drainage culvert off Livesey Branch Road, on land within the grounds of St Bede’s High School and also on land behind the Old Gates Drive. This council-owned land has no access so an access path has been created to facilitate future maintenance of the culvert.

“This work started last November. Due to coronavirus restrictions and bad weather, the works have been delayed. They will be completed by the end of April.

"It has been necessary to remove a small number of trees as part of the work. Once the work is complete, we will ensure these trees are replaced."

Cllr Marrow said: "Would it not be common sense to wait for the planning application on Lomond Gardens, because if that application is passed, there will be access to the drains for the jetter wagons from the new estate.

"This would be a more suitable point of hard standing to work from, and save the needless waste of tax payer money on putting in a stoned track across the public open space and the removal of the trees of the site and so preserve the little haven for the wildlife."