AN influential community group has thrown its support behind a potential £2m project to turn a disused former railway line into a haven for walkers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Members of the Teesdale Action Partnership (TAP) board were told if the 12-mile line between Barnard Castle and Bishop Auckland was developed, it would form part of a network of paths linking the upper dale to the coast.

The TAP board agreed to spend more than £8,000 on a feasibility study if senior officers at Durham County Council decide the project is viable.

TAP co-ordinator Craig Morgan told members: “We have been liaising with the rights of way team and they are keen to do it.

“If it is viable, the budget would be used to set the groundwork for something that could have massive outcomes – it could be a £2m project.”

Should the scheme progress, the TAP money would be spent on more detailed design work, legal costs and ways of sourcing the major funding that would be required, said Mr Morgan.

“If it becomes reality, the impact is really good for the area. It makes a link from Teesdale to the rest of the paths network in County Durham and could link Middleton-in-Teesdale to the coast.”

The Bishop Auckland to Barnard Castle line was opened in 1863 and includes a number of features, including the Gaunless, Forthburn and Langley viaducts.

The line was eventually shut as part of the Beeching closures in the mid-1960s.

Coun Pauline Charlton, who represents Evenwood, said she fully supported the proposal, but voiced concern over who would manage and maintain the line once it was developed.

Mr Morgan said it would become part of the county's rights of way network and the feasibility study would look into its management.

However, Barnard Castle East's Coun George Richardson said he was uneasy about what was being proposed.

“We are being asked to fund a feasibility study – I don't like throwing money around like that," he said.

“I don't know how much benefit we are going to get, I would be greatly surprised if it was £2m.”

Barnard Castle West's Coun Richard Bell countered: “Putting in £8,000 is not a huge amount of money and it demonstrates that we want this to happen.

“We are reflecting that the wider community wants this to happen and that they think it's a good idea.”