HALF-a-million pounds of Lottery cash secured following a TV vote could be lost to the region amid escalating project costs and budget cutbacks.

The cost of reopening Durham’s spectacular Belmont Viaduct as a cycleway and footpath has rocketed, leading council chiefs to consider dropping the scheme.

The project was one of 79 across the country set to share in £50m won by transport charity Sustrans’ Connect2 project in ITV’s People’s Millions contest.

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But total costs have risen from £800,000 to £1.785m, leading Durham County Council officials to reconsider its backing.

If the project is cancelled, the Lottery cash would go to another Sustrans scheme elsewhere.

A Sustrans spokeswoman said the council had stopped work on the scheme until its cabinet discusses it early in the new year.

She said Sustrans was disappointed to learn of the development, particularly as a Memorandum of Understanding for the scheme had already been signed.

A Durham County Council spokeswoman said the project had an estimated £1m shortfall, but was part of the budget- making process, culminating in setting council tax bills in late February.

Last month, The Northern Echo revealed the recession and predicted public spending cutbacks meant the council may have to cut its budget by more than £60m over the next three years, and capital spending is under particular pressure.

The council spokeswoman said £3m could be achieved for 2010-11, but bids currently total £195.5m.

Belmont Viaduct once carried the Newcastle to Bishop Auckland railway line. Its reopening was key to Durham’s Necklace Park scheme, to create a 12-mile park along the river.

The Sustrans spokeswoman said: “Sustrans has done everything possible to make the scheme a reality.

“It has had strong local support and great potential for encouraging and enabling more people to get around the area in ways that are good for both their health and the environment.”

Durham MP Roberta Blackman- Woods said: “I’m obviously concerned and I have written to the county council to ask for an update and the current costs of the scheme, which I understand have escalated higher, and an indication from them about what they’re going to do.”