SMALL STEPS: A small section of the route near Cockfield was created in 2015 by Teesdale Action Partnership
SMALL STEPS: A small section of the route near Cockfield was created in 2015 by Teesdale Action Partnership

LONG-awaited proposals to create a 12-mile walk along the old railway line from Barnard Castle to Bishop Auckland have been dropped from a flagship policy.

The walk and cycleway would follow the former route of the Bishop Auckland, Haggerleases and Barnard Castle line, which closed in the 1960s. But rail enthusiasts are upset about Durham County Council’s decision to remove the scheme from the lastest version of the County Durham Plan, which will be a masterplan for development.

Members of the Friends of Stockton and Darlington Railway are among those who want to see the route being created as part of plans to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the opening of historic Darlington line in 2025.

Caroline Hardie, a heritage consultant and member of the friends group, said: “If it comes out of the county plan then all the work that has been done dies a death and the investment will be lost.”

The scheme, originally called the South West Durham Heritage Corridor, has been in development for over a decade. It was dropped in 2010 after problems getting funding and an expected high cost of maintaining the public route. It was revised by Teesdale Action Partnership which estimated it would cost £2million to create.

Like previous attempts, the scheme stalled. But supporters of the idea were given fresh hope this year when Durham County Council proposed to create five public rights of way along the old railway line to Barnard Castle.

The new bridleways, which for the most part will be three metres wide and stretch more than two kilometres, would take people from Glaxo Sports and Social Club, in Barnard Castle, past The Hub and across a number of fields to Dent Gate Lane.

However, there was a fresh twist when it was revealed last week that the idea of extending the walkway all the way to Bishop Auckland has not been included in the County Durham Plan. Ms Hardie, who was speaking at last week’s business network meeting at Enterprise House, in Barnard Castle, said it was important people commented on the County Plan public consultation. She was backed by Hazel Rayner, a member of Stainmore Railway Company based at Kirkby Stephen East station.

Businessman Simon Owens added: “This is a good opportunity for us to make a bit of noise and get that line back in [the County Durham Plan] because of the benefits.

“We have got this amazing Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and landscape and that tends to attract families who engage in outdoor activities. Having a walkway and cycle route would spread the benefits of that. All of Teesdale could benefit if we play our cards right.”

Ms Hardie said concerns previously raised about the impact on wildlife, which use the old line as a corridor, need not “preclude having access along the route”.

In a letter to the Mercury, budding wildlife photographer and zoology student Cameron Sharp wrote: “The wildlife is doing so well here partly because it’s a wildlife corridor between agricultural land and partly because the land is free of regular human activity.”

Mike Allum, spatial policy manager at Durham County Council, said: "Although there are no cycle routes identified on the County Durham Plan, we have considered cycling provision within our Strategic Cycling and Walking Delivery Plan. The plan contains objectives and policies that would support the creation of a long-distance route from West Auckland to Barnard Castle.

"There is nothing to prevent partners and community organisations seeking funding for projects like this, regardless of whether the route is marked on a plan. We encourage such schemes, as they support our ambition to make cycling as safe and accessible as possible in County Durham. As part of this, we also intend to deliver local cycling plans in 12 major towns within the county, including Barnard Castle.”

To comment on the County Durham Plan, visit www.durham.gov.uk