THE birthplace of the railways could lose its steam heritage museum, after council bosses revealed it may be forced to close to cut costs.

Darlington Borough Council is looking to save almost £15m over the next six years and aims to look at transferring the running of the Head of Steam museum, along with Cockerton Library, into community hands by March 2016.

A two-year search for partners willing to take on these services is expected to follow, but the council has acknowledged that no funding will remain in the budget for them after that point.

Members of the council’s cabinet will consider a 104-page report on the authority’s draft medium term financial plan, for 2014/15 to 2019/20, at a meeting on November 13.

Spending cuts worth £13.8m are set out in the report, along with proposals for a two per cent council tax increase for Darlington residents for each year of the plan.

John Anderson, the council’s assistant director for policy and regeneration, said negotiations had been going on behind the scenes for many months to find a ‘new business model’, not only to keep the Head of Steam museum open but to improve it as a visitor experience.

Mr Anderson said the council regards the museum as crucial to the economic regeneration of the northern part of the town.

He said: “We have engaged with rail heritage groups, and we are working with all the stakeholders on the site – the A1 Trust, the North-East Locomotive Preservation Group, the Darlington Railway Preservation Society and Network Rail to mention just a few – to find a way to enhance and enliven the offer at the museum.

“It is under threat of closure, but equally there is some real optimism and this deadline will act as a catalyst to achieve a new and thriving rail heritage campus.”

The museum was run by volunteers between 1975 and 1984.

Barrie Lamb is chairman of North Road Railway Museum Trust, which ran the museum before it was transferred to council operation.

He is concerned that Stephenson’s Locomotion Number One, one of the Head of Steam’s most significant exhibits, could be moved elsewhere if the running of the museum changes hands.

He said: “The costs are numerous and it would have to be trimmed back, I think, if somebody else came to run it. It would not be the same service as it is now.”