ENTHUSIASTS say plans for more than 600 homes on the edge of a North-East town could destroy a piece of the region's railway heritage.

Darlington Borough Council is consulting on plans to include space for 605 homes on a large piece of land at Burdon Hill, on the eastern fringe of the town, between Red Hall estate and the A66.

The site has been earmarked as one of the largest areas for housing in the draft Making and Growing Places document, which sets out development sites for the next 12 years.

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The Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway has expressed serious concerns over the plans, saying a proposed access road to the site crosses a walkway formed by the old the track bed of the world's first passenger railway.

Set up last year to promote the line and develop its potential as a tourist attraction, the Friends' ultimate aim is to see the line granted World Heritage Site status.

Chairman Alan Macnab said: "The proposed developers have informed the council and myself that access to and from the Burdon Hill development will be across the track bed of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which is now a cycle/walkway.

"The proposed road across the track bed will sever and destroy part of the route of the railway.

"The Friends feel very strongly that access to and from the development, across the track bed, will destroy a very important piece of history and part of a potential World Heritage Site.

"We are working very hard to raise the profile of the route of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, to protect and develop the route as a potential rail trail to bring tourists to the area.

"This desecration of part of an important historical site must not be allowed to happen.

"If this development is allowed, significant earnings from tourism will be lost - potentially several million pounds."

Councillor Brian Jones, ward member for the affected area, called on the developers to be sympathetic to the site's heritage.

He said: "This is not about stopping the development, but I think the developers need to be aware of what was in the area.

"I would hope that they will take on board the Friends' views and act with sympathy."