A COUNCILLOR has accused Network Rail of trying to gag members of a parish council after it withdrew funding to help pay for community projects in a Darlington village.

The bridge at Dinsdale Station, in Middleton St George, reopened last week following five months of improvement work.

The old bridge has been replaced with a taller structure to allow freight trains to use the line, which links Teesport and the East Coast Main Line.

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Residents have complained about a number of issues during the work, including the appearance of the new bridge, traffic disruption and safety risks posed by the redesign.

Before the work was carried out, Network Rail offered to send a team of volunteers to the village to undertake voluntary work, as well as offering to donate £1,000 to a community project in the village.

However, in a letter to the parish council, project manager Andrew Farnworth said the offer - which he described as “discretionary and in the interests of goodwill” – has now been withdrawn due to the parish council’s criticism of the work.

He said: “Unfortunately, I would need to get approval for both of these and now that Network Rail is facing public criticism from the parish council I am not prepared to seek this approval and so I must withdraw my earlier offers.”

Ward Councillor Steve York said: “The village was always in favour of the work, but the bridge now looks unsightly and we are left with it in this village for a very long time now.

“It is just one final go at the village which they really didn’t need to do.”

Speaking at a meeting of Darlington Borough Council, ward Councillor Doris Jones said: “Since when did Northern Rail have authority to gag elected members in the town?

“Northern Rail haven’t got enough money in the bank to gag me.”

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said: “Any such community activity requires cooperation with local stakeholders but we received no response to our communications until very recently as the team finished work.”