A MOVE to buy an eyesore parcel of land beside the world’s oldest continuously operated railway bridge has been approved to improve the area and create space for a viewing platform for the historic structure.

Darlington Borough Council’s leading members agreed investing in a 270sq m plot at Skerne Bridge, which in 2018 was ranked alongside Windsor Castle and Shakespeare’s birthplace in a list of the 100 most historically-important places in England, would improve the setting of the bridge ahead of bi-centenary celebrations for the Stockton-Darlington Railway in 2025.

While recent years have seen some of the area surrounding the largest piece of infrastructure on the world’s first proper passenger railway revamped, with footpaths and a cycle route leading to it, Councillor Charles Johnson, the authority’s deputy leader, said the area appeared neglected and needed further improvements.

Buying the land off High Northgate is part of a multi-million pound scheme to create an international visitor attraction in the area, which is to be known as Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter, to herald the town’s rail heritage.

The Tees Valley Combined Authority-backed initiative centres around improving the Head of Steam museum off North Road, but this has been threatened by a decision by the National Railway Museum to move its star attraction – Locomotion no 1, the world’s first passenger locomotive - from the town where it has been kept for the past 160 years to Shildon.

The National Railway Museum said Darlington council signed a legally binding loan agreement in 1975 to borrow Locomotion No 1 from its collection, an agreement which was set to expire in March next year.

But in February members of the authority unanimously voted to express “outrage” at the plan and approved a move to use “all and every means available to it to oppose the decision”.

Cllr Johnson said no progress had been made in resolving the issue in recent weeks.He said: “We seem to be in a stalemate. We are not budging this side and they are not budging their side, but we are not going to give up and we are not minded to compromise. We are trying to do our very best and we have to do things properly.

“This is where Locomotion No 1 belongs. It is part of our growing history of things that have changed Darlington forever. The railway was an amazing opportunity to develop the town - Darlington never looked back from an industrial point of view.”