A Darlington activist who fought to protect a precious park hailed a positive but “bittersweet” outcome.
The historic Georgian parkland around the Blackwell Grange Hotel is now ‘triple protected’ under Darlington’s recently approved local plan.
Darlington City Council agreed in 2019 to scrap plans to build homes in the area, dubbed “the last of Darlington’s Georgian pleasure lands”, dating back to 1802.
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Controversial proposals to build in the grounds surrounding the Grade II listed Blackwell Grange Hotel were removed from the draft local plan at the time.
The Parkland Heritage Network’s efforts to protect the park have been hailed as “tireless” by the council.
The network’s Michael Green said the land at Blackwell Grange was now protected in three ways – as an urban park, in the ‘green corner’ and around half as a local wildlife site.
He said restoration plans are underway and the park will host its first public event this weekend.
However, one land, the “Blands Corner Triangle”, remains intended for development.
He said: “For Blackwell, it’s seen as a success in terms of the number of campaign groups we represent.
“There was going to be housing at some point all around the park. All of that has been removed.
“It worked well. We had tremendous support.
“It was multi-party. There is a great understanding of all the elected officials of the need to protect this park. It is an asset for the borough.
“It’s a bit bittersweet in the sense that the triangle has been lost.
“There are people looking for how it can be protected.
“There is a sadness that the triangle has not been saved. It is a matter of balancing the economy, housing needs and the environment.”
Now the network is turning its attention to the restoration, improvement and continued protection of Blackwell Park.
Mr Green said: “The local authority has a restoration plan, to restore it, maintain it and conserve it as a natural park.
“It’s about looking at what exists now, improving it and allowing public access.
“There are higher levels of protection for the future that we would like to consider.
“There is a protection called a local green space and the highest level is called a trust field, which protects it for generations to come.
“Yesterday we were working with officers from the Estates Department to review their next plan and how to improve the park.
“It was a really encouraging meeting. They want to work with the community on the project, on promoting and improving what we have.
“It will be an ongoing process where we meet with elected officers and members as a community and as a community network.”
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The park will host its first public event on Saturday, an orienteering event with the Cleveland Orienteering Klub (CLOK).
“We’re glad they’re using it,” Green added.
However, other areas have not been so lucky and controversy continues to surround the local Darlington plan, in particular the proposed Skerningham development.
Mr Green was at a busy council meeting where the plan was passed by a 24-20 vote.
He said: “That’s what’s difficult about a local plan. It’s almost one size fits all.
“He’s a priest’s egg, good in part. If you don’t vote for him, you lose what was won and he’s thrown up in the air again. A win for one is a loss for the other areas.”
Activists had produced a 130,000-word study detailing the significance of Blackwell Park.
Their work was hailed by Darlington Mayor’s Advisor Nick Wallis as “a first-class example of local people being passionate about something in their community”.
In July 2019, Council Leader Cllr Heather Scott said the volume and strength of historical and environmental information presented by the Parkland Heritage Network had highlighted the importance of protecting the area.
The document also revealed how the park had been based on the designs of 18th century landscape architect Capability Brown and still had ridge and furrow features, indicating how it was cultivated in the Middle Ages.
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