A public inquiry into an application to turn land in Northumberland into a village green is under way.
The inquiry, which started at Hepscott Hall in Morpeth yesterday, is focused on land known locally as Central Park, north of Station Road in Cramlington.
Residents are campaigning to protect the cherished open space from major housing development proposed by joint landowners, Persimmon and Bellway Homes.
More than 500 people signed a petition against plans to build up to 600 homes on the land.
Last year the Save Our Space (SOS) campaign group submitted an application for the land to be officially designated as a village green, claiming it has been widely used as a recreational resource for more than 20 years.
Earlier this year, Northumberland County Council decided a public inquiry should be conducted by an independent planning inspector to consider the application.
Residents hope if granted it would give the land more protection from developers.
Yesterday the inquiry began hearing evidence from interested parties.
Pat Heard, who lives in Falmouth Walk and is a leading member of the SOS group, was at the opening of the inquiry and is due to give evidence this week.
She has been a driving force behind Cramlington SOS.
Northumberland county councillor for Cramlington West, Barry Flux, attended the meeting last night and said it was an issue residents were passionate about.
“This has been a big issue in the local area for a long time,” he said.
“It is really important to them that this land is saved and I will support them in speaking up on that.”
Coun Flux added: “It’s something residents are very passionate about, it is the green lungs of Cramlington. It is our equivalent of the Town Moor. It is an area well utilised by people.”
Speaking at the time of the announcement of an inquiry, a county council spokeswoman said: “A non-statutory public inquiry, led by an independent inspector, will examine an application to have an area of land north of Station Road, Cramlington registered as a town or village green.
“The inspector will examine the issues, with a view to making a recommendation to the planning, environment and rights of way committee of the council. The decision to hold a public inquiry was taken by the deputy chief executive, Kate Roe, following legal advice, as there are disputes in fact and law.
“It is anticipated the inquiry will take five days.”
The Station Road land has been earmarked for housing development for years, and Persimmon and Bellway Homes have recently been working with the town council on reconfigured proposals.
Persimmon and Bellway say the land has always been set aside for housing as part of the wider development of Cramlington, and the scheme will bring economic benefits and help meet a dire need for new housing.
The inquiry is expected to last five days.