Campaigners fighting plans for new homes had to face the police after their protest threatened to get out of hand.
Residents were concerned to see workmen on the site of a proposed housing development at a former military site at Killingworth Moor without any protection or bomb disposal experts.
Fears have been raised there are old bullets and bombs still on the site after a report revealed there is a ‘risk’ of unexploded munitions.
And on Tuesday residents were shocked to see workmen and diggers without protection or bomb disposal experts as part of initial work by Bellway Homes, which is planning to build 127 houses on the site.
Steve Patterson, who lives opposite the site, said: “When they dug the bore holes on the actual site there was bomb disposal experts from Catterick there.
“But on this occasion they are just digging holes in the field without any supervision.
“What would happen if they were to hit something?
“This is all a concern for those of us living nearby.”
But work was delayed on Wednesday after someone broke into the secure site on Tuesday night and set the JCB on fire.
A spokesperson for Bellway Homes said there was no risk during the work.
They said: “As the site is an ex-MOD munitions store, part of our due diligence process included carrying out a full and detailed unexploded ordinance survey prior to taking ownership of the site.
“The results of the survey highlight that there is a ‘low’ and ‘extremely low’ risk of unexploded ordinance on the area we wish to develop.
“We have now implemented the recommendations as set out in the report by excavating several areas surrounding the site.
“The excavation works which have been carried out by trained professionals have concluded that there is no unexploded ordnance in the ground surrounding the site. The only materials found were general building debris, horseshoes, metal fence posts and sections of metal fencing.
“We were scheduled to complete the excavation works by lunchtime Wednesday, however, our JCB was set on fire whilst locked up securely within the site.
“There will therefore be a short delay in the final results.
“We would like to remind residents and local politicians that the proposed housing development will occupy 100 per cent of the brownfield/previously developed land.
“Our planning proposal allows for 127 new homes, a parkland area, and extensive landscaping, including the planting of over 200 trees, new wetlands and new areas of open space and will significantly improve the landscape and ecology of the area.”