HELLIFIELD residents concerned about the development taking place on a wetland area known as the ‘flashes’, to the west of the village, have said they want a public meeting with the district council’s head of planning.

A meeting was held last week by ward councillor Chris Moorby so people could air their views.

But Cllr Moorby said chief planning officer Neville Watson had refused to attend after a number of ‘nasty’ Facebook comments had been made.

A spokesman for CDC said: ““Following a number of abusive and threatening messages on social media, the decision was made that council officers should not attend the public meeting due to concerns over their safety.”

The discussions centred around the current work at the site on behalf of Halton Homes. Permission was originally granted in September 2005 near the junction of Waterside Lane and the A65 for a rural environment centre, a hotel and car park.

The work to excavate the site began in May, soon after permission for a larger development for a hotel with 300 lodges and holiday park, to the south of the current site, was refused by the district council.

But anger continues to grow among residents who claim the excavation work is damaging a sensitive area of wetland, particular a large flash known as Gallaber Pond.

Cllr Moorby said despite Mr Watson not willing to attend the meeting, he had been to the site that day and spoken to the site manager who comfirmed he was working to the approved plans.

One parishioner said it was difficult to get an explanation of what was happening on site. “We are just being passed around,” they said.

Another said the planning department of the district council should be ‘accountable’ for what is going on while another, Peter Toms, asked why CDC had never made mention of EU guidelines on a Water Framework Directive (WFD).

A council spokesman said afterwards: “Compliance with the requirements of the WFD lies with the Environment Agency, not the planning authority.”

Cllr Moorby said: “I can only pass on messages. CDC has been to the site and spoken to the site manager and has been told they are working to the plans. You may not like it; I don’t like it, but until they don’t work to the plans, you can’t stop them,” he said, adding that the Environment Agency had been to the site ‘numerous times’ and taken pictures.

Green Party councillor Andy Brown attended the meeting and said: “The situation at Hellifield Flashes is a major environmental disaster. This work needs to stop until it is clearly established that it is taking place within the terms of the ancient planning permission that the developer is relying on. Craven District Council must enforce regular inspections to ensure that nothing happens that exceeds the terms of a permission that should never have been granted.”

Residents said they were being told not to walk or drive on Waterside Lane, despite information showing it had been built by public money and after many had been using it for more than 20 years.

A ‘protest walk’ is due to take place along Waterside Lane on Saturday morning.