AMBITIOUS plans to create a 12-mile long park along the banks of the River Wear have moved a significant step forward with the appointment of a new manager to oversee the project.

Durham City Vision has appointed Ann Deary as the new manager of Necklace Park in Durham City, which will see a continuous park between Sunderland Bridge and Finchale Abbey by joining up existing pockets of land.

One of her key first tasks will be to drive forward plans with Durham County Council and Sustrans to re-open Belmont Viaduct as a pedestrian and cycle route.

The spectacular railway viaduct was originally opened in 1857 to carry the Newcastle to Bishop Auckland railway line and links Belmont to the east of the Wear with Newton Hall and Brasside to the west, providing a quieter and safer route into Durham city centre avoiding the busy A690.

The project, which has already won £500,000 of Big Lottery funding, will also provide an alternative route for cyclists to reach some of the city’s biggest employers, including Aykley Heads, the Arnison Centre and Frankland Prison to the west, and the Belmont and Dragonville industrial and retail sites to the east.

The 32-year-old will also be responsible for helping to deliver the ambitious Riverbanks Gardens project subject to Heritage Lottery funding, which would see the former pleasure gardens on the peninsula restored to their 18th Century glory.

Ms Deary has previously worked for Blyth Valley Borough Council and the Greening For Growth project in Northumberland.

She said: "I’m delighted to be given the opportunity to lead the Necklace Park.

"The riverside is incredibly beautiful and offers a wealth of opportunity for recreation, improvements for wildlife and attracting visitors.

"The Belmont Viaduct project is really exciting. Bringing a historical structure back into use offers many challenges but will ultimately make a real difference to local people and visitors. It’s clear that the local community is right behind the project, and excited to see it happen."

Harvey Dowdy, Director of Regeneration at Durham City Vision, said: "Ann brings a wealth of experience to this exciting and challenging role. We are all very excited about Belmont Viaduct re-opening; the results of this and other Necklace Park projects will have a positive effect on the City, the river and the communities around it."