THE winter weather has scuppered attempts to restore a community field used as a car park for a major North-East tourist attraction to its former condition.

The field next to Stanhope Station is owned by Durham County Council but was loaned to the Weardale Railway for their Polar Express rides which attracted 37,000 visitors in November and December last year.

Now neighbours are asking for the field, which has been churned up after 12,000 cars parked on it, to be restored to its former condition.

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Alan Emerson has lived on Bondisle Way near the field for 44 years and said: “It’s appalling and we want it put right.

“The field has been used by residents for dog walking and playing for years but we cannot use it as it is.”

Weardale county councillor John Shuttleworth said he was disappointed to see the field left in such a state.

He said: “I’m not having a go at the railway or the Polar Express, it brought a lot of visitors to the dale and was deemed a success.

“But when you borrow something you should return it the way it was given to you, it is in a terrible state.”

Mike Fairburn from the railway said visitor numbers to the Polar Express far exceeded expectation while weeks of heavy rain also contributed to causing the problems.

He said: “People who are critical of the renovation of the field are forgetting the appalling weather we have had.

“First of all the field was flooded which made it impossible to remove any of the temporary surface we laid, then we had a lot of snow that is still only just finishing up.

“We will work on it as soon as we can.”

Mr Fairburn said the railway is now working with the council to come up with a better surface for parking should the Polar Express return again next winter.

Nigel Dodds, strategic manager for outdoor sport and leisure at the council said any damage had to be repaired, adding: “It’s unfortunate that there was so much rain at that time.”

The Weardale Railway was the first line in the country to run the Polar Express, a Christmas train ride based on the hit Warner Bros film starring Tom Hanks, which ran between Stanhope and a North pole set further along the line.