A PARISH council has said it will withhold payment for the removal of trees and vegetation following a row about whether the correct work was done.

There was uproar in Middleton St George, near Darlington, after hedges, trees and greenery were removed from near the village's water park last week.

Middleton St George Parish Council had agreed to pay about £22,700 for work to be carried out to make the south bank of the former reservoirs safe.

An extraordinary meeting was called on Monday to discuss the situation following public outcry and questions over whether the work had been done correctly.

More than 60 people attended the online meeting, which heard the work had been carried out by a sub-contractor – unbeknownst to the parish council.

The council had agreed to clear vegetation from the south bank of the reservoir to allow for it to be regularly inspected for safety reasons relating to houses being built nearby.

Vice-chairman Stuart Crowther told the meeting a report done in August 2019 was "unequivocal" that some of the vegetation around the water park would have to be removed.

He said: "The south facing bank had to be cleared of all vegetation and there was a recommendation to pollard the trees to restrain growth,

"With the new development of houses any movement or slippage could have been quite disastrous because of the huge volumes of water."

He added: "We really had no choice. We had to do it. We were given a report so we had to do it. If we hadn't and the something went wrong and the banks burst, there would have been serious repercussions."

But questions have been raised as to whether healthy trees were cut down unnecessarily and whether the clearance went beyond what had been asked.

The meeting heard a hedge had been removed which may be owned by developer Homes by Carlton. Parish chair Catherine Gilsenan said it was not clear who owned the hedge, claiming Land Registry documents did not give a definitive answer.

The parish council resolved to talk to the contractor to establish further details.

Cllr Gilsenan said payment would be withheld until the matter was sorted out. She added: "We have to discuss a lot of issues with contractors outside the meeting before we can go any further."

Cllr Steve L'Anson said he had gone to the site after hearing machinery starting work and had told workers they had cleared more than had been asked.

He added: "I think if I hadn't gone down they would have cleared all of it."

Councillor Hazel Bullock, who is part of the village's In Bloom group, suggested future planting to rectify the situation could include wild flowers and fruit trees. She said: "We can't look back because there is no way we can put the trees back."