WORK to transform an old railway line into a walking route has been stopped in its tracks after a dispute over a small piece of land.

The second phase of work on The South West Durham Heritage Corridor Project, also known as the Teesdale Rights of Way Improvements, received a £15,000 grant from the Teesdale Action Partnership (TAP).

TAP, who are coordinating the project in a bid to turn the old railway line from Barnard Castle to Bishop Auckland into an accessible route, spent £10,000 on the first phase between Pethrow and Cockfield Fell in 2015.

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The latest round of funding was due to be spent on the section between Dent Gate Lane and Bluestone Grange but TAP coordinator, Craig Morgan, said it “cannot now be done because of significant issues arising from site surveys and ecological reports”.

Durham County Councillor for Barnard Castle West, Ted Henderson, said work had come to a halt over a small patch of private land which Durham County Council was having problems purchasing from the landowner and farmer David Buck and his two brothers.

He said: “It’s come to a standstill in lots of ways because we have tried to negotiate with the people that own this little piece of land that we have to cross and they are asking for a silly price for a piece of waste land.

“What we are doing is going back to Durham County Council and asking them to put in a compulsory purchase order and then we can go ahead and join things up because it would be a shame not to join it up now – it’s an important pathway.”

County Durham Councillor for Barnard Castle East, James Rowlandson, said Mr Buck told him the price offered by the council was “not high enough”.

“It just got stalled at that point,” he said. “It’s disappointing getting that far because Durham County Council does own the surrounding land and it would have been good to connect the path to the Hub.”

He added: “It’s about 100m of land and not the best of land. There’s not a lot you can do with it.”

Cllr Rowlandson said if an agreement could not be reached, then work on that part of the line would be abandoned and the money would be sued elsewhere.

Mr Morgan said other options for the popular walking route would be to join up the current path with the public right of way leading to Teesdale Leisure Centre, which would still involve negotiating use of land, or creating a link at Cockfield connecting work done in Phase 1 at Pethrow to Cockfield Fell.

Adrian White, Durham County Council’s head of transport and contract services, said the council was keen to open up the former railway line for public access.

He said: “The section from Dent Gate Lane to Bluestone Grange had been identified for such improvements but our exploratory work has shown that the area is of high ecological value and unfortunately, the cost of carrying out mitigation works means that the scheme is not feasible at this stage.

“We are currently working with the area action partnership and third parties towards re-allocating the identified funding to an alternative section.”

No response was received from Mr Buck at the time The Northern Echo went to print.