RESIDENTS are challenging a council decision to allow a filling station to keep a widened rear exit - which they say directs traffic from a busy bypass along their once-quiet street.

Objectors in Wheatley Hill, near Peterlee, say they have been plagued by hundreds of cars and heavy goods vehicles using Durham Road from the Wheatley Hill Service Station, on the A181.

They argue that this defeats the object of multi-million pound bypass built more than two decades ago.

A Durham County Council planning committee meeting agreed to grant retrospective planning permission for a store extension and a widened rear access at the service station.

Residents now intend to lodge a complaint with the local government ombudsman to try and have the decision overturned, claiming the committee meeting was flawed.

Speaking on behalf of objectors, resident Margaret Hedley said, when the garage owner extended the kiosk to create a shop it narrowed the exit onto the main road.

This caused problems for big vehicles with trailers and the rear entrance was widened several months ago to allow them to leave via Durham Road, she added.

“The bypass was created in 1989, because it was recognised that the A181 through Wheatley Hill was an accident blackspot, with numerous fatalities on the road.

“What this does is divert traffic from the bypass back through our village.

“As well as cars, we have 42-tonne articulated lorries, car transporters and school buses trundling down the road – some for almost a mile before they rejoin the A181 at the roundabout further up.

“A traffic survey by the council recorded 800 vehicles a day using what is supposed to be a cul-de-sac.”

Mrs Hedley stressed, residents did not have an issue with the garage owner, but with the council.

Councillors voted unanimously in May, to defer a decision to enable planning officers to explore ways in which HGV’s could be diverted back on to the A181.

Planning officers, who recommended approval, said since meeting in May the applicant had agreed to remove the car wash facility to enable easier manoeuvring of HGVs within the site and to encourage them to use the front access. This should further reduce the numbers using the rear exit, councillors were told.

Highways Officers said the bulk of traffic using the back entrance was local. And they said, as it was a public highway and any vehicle was permitted to use it.

At a planning meeting earlier this month committee chairman used his casting vote to allow the retrospective permission.

Parish council objections had not been properly aired, Mrs Hedley said.