THE first section of the England Coast Path has been opened in the North-East.

The 55km route runs from South Bents, near Sunderland, to North Gare in Hartlepool, takes in the Durham Heritage Coast, which has been developed after the ravages of decades of mining were removed.

It was launched at a ceremony in Seaham,County Durham, on Saturday (April 12).

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Jim Smyllie, Natural England’s Executive Director, said: “We’re delighted to be opening up this new stretch and this path will provide permanent, secure and improved rights for walkers and other users to enjoy some of the most fascinating and striking coastline in England.”

Durham County Council chairman Pauline Charlton said: “We are delighted that this new path now connects our three local authorities along this marvellous coast.

"Fifteen years ago we saw how a new path can reconnect communities to their coast and the real, tangible benefits that arise from a simple path and I look forward to working with our neighbours to ensure we reap the benefits of this opportunity."

Peter Jackson, Chairman of Hartlepool Council’s Neighbourhood Services Committee, said: "It will open up our stunning coastline for the enjoyment of local people, and it will also help to us to attract more visitors to the area, with all of the economic benefits that they bring."