ON the first day of the new unitary Durham County Council, leader Simon Henig said its aim was to “not just maintain but improve services, from Barnard Castle to Blackhall, from Consett to Coxhoe.” Five years on, The Northern Echo’s local reporters assess the situation on the ground.

BARNARD Castle has benefited from at least £15m of investment since 2008; but it still feels “abandoned”, according to a town councillor.

The town was formerly the hub of Teesdale District Council (TDC), a tiny authority covering a vast rural area of south-west Durham from the outskirts of Darlington to the Cumbrian border.

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In the last few years, it has seen £2.6m spent on the Barnard Castle Vision project and £3.2m on the refurbishment of The Witham as a business and arts space – and Durham County Council (DCC) has played a major part in both.

But, with Durham’s County Hall 45 minutes’ drive away, residents still feel they have “dropped off the map”, according to Councillor Thom Robinson, who lives and runs a business in the town.

“The overriding feeling of people in Barnard Castle and Teesdale is one of abandonment,” he said, pointing to reduced opening hours at Stainton Grove’s household waste recycling centre as an example of DCC lacking local knowledge.

Richard Bell, leader of DCC’s Conservatives and a county councillor for Barnard Castle West, said the 2009 shake-up had produced good and bad; arguing TDC would have struggled to cope with the depth of cuts seen since, but Teesdale had been “denuded of officers and services”.

DCC chiefs cite their support for new businesses and jobs, the development of rural broadband, new floodlighting for the castle, better parking and the redevelopment of Scar Top leisure area as examples of how it’s backing Barney.