Placard-waving protesters barred the way of a digger and stopped improvement works to a Baildon footpath yesterday, claiming Bradford Council was showing a “contempt for democracy” with the timing of the project.

Baildon Residents Against Inappropriate Development (Braid) believes that work on footpaths around Buck Lane will “activate” planning permission for an industrial estate on the site ahead of a meeting to discuss the proposed industrial estate.

But the Council insisted that carrying out the improvements to the path off Otley Road does not mean the site’s future is already decided.

Plans for the estate have been permitted but earlier this month Braid presented the Council with a 1,700-name petition, enough names to force a debate on the issue to a meeting of the full Council on Tuesday, December 11.

Members of Braid thought nothing would go ahead before that date, but last week they learned that the path improvements had been started three weeks ahead of it.

“I think this is sleight of hand, a pre-emptive strike by the Council,” said Braid secretary Edmund Butterworth.

“This sort of work is usually done in summer – why start it now? There’s a very uncomfortable feeling to all this.”

He and other campaigners formed a human wall to prevent a digger being driven from the site during one stage of their protest yesterday morning.

Former Bradford councillor John Hall said he felt the Council was trying to steal an advantage before the full debate. He said: “It’s clearly out of order to begin any work here until after the formal discussion.”

Baildon parish councillor Ian Lyons said: “It’s a condition that they improve this path before the planning permission can be activated.

Chris Eaton, the Council’s development services manager, said: “The work on the footpaths on that land will improve the surface for all users whether or not any development does go ahead. Work carried out to improve footpaths for the benefit of the whole community does not preclude a meaningful debate on the future of the area.”