A PLAN to safeguard a landmark North-East museum has tonight (July 1) been approved by councillors.

The future of The Head of Steam - Darlington Railway Museum was thrown into doubt after the council said it could no longer afford to subsidise it to the tune of £265,000 per year after April 2016.

However, Darlington Borough Council's cabinet have now supported plans to continue the subsidy and seek World Heritage Status for the North Road site.

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Councillors agreed that it should be a focal point for the 2025 celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, being on the route of the world’s first passenger line.

Recommending the plans for approval, Nick Wallis, portfolio holder for leisure and local environment, said: “Looking ahead as long as we can do, the local authority will continue to subsidise the Head of Steam.

“This process has helped us understand just how passionate people feel about the Head of Steam and people have come forward with ideas.

“Consultation on a new vision for the Head of Steam will take place so that it can not only continue to exist, but have an exciting and different future.”

Cllr Wallis said it was important that by the time of the anniversary celebrations - likely to attract international interest - Darlington had a vibrant railway museum to mark the occasion and attract tourists.

Cllr Alan Macnab, a member of the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway group, said he was “delighted” at the decision to continue the subsidy.

However, he suggested they work with other groups to apply for World Heritage Status for the whole section of the original line so that the wider Teesside and County Durham region benefitted.

He said: “It could very well put Darlington and the region on the tourist map.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Heather Scott also welcomed the proposals and suggested that members work with the National Railway Museum in York to swap locomotives to improve the Head of Steam’s offering.

Cabinet members approved the release of £10,000 to fund a public engagement and consultation process around the plans, but Council leader Bill Dixon offered a warning.

He said: “At the risk of spoiling everybody’s love-in, let’s not forget that we still have to find the money; we face an extremely challenging budget.

“We will try and find a way of finding it, but it is going to have to come out of the budget elsewhere.

“There is no fairy godmother or godfather; someone else is going to feel it.”