A COUNCIL leader has warned the bi-centenary celebrations of the world’s first passenger railway could be derailed if politicians continue to criticise the manner of departure of Locomotion No 1 from the town it had been kept in for 163 years.

Darlington Borough Council leader Councillor Heather Scott used the start of a meeting of the authority’s cabinet to emphasise her determination that the borough “has to make the best of it” after its star attraction was taken to the National Railway Museum’s Locomotion in Shildon.

The Conservative-run council leader said there had been a cross-party consensus over the deal the council had struck last Friday, which will mean the historic engine returns to Darlington for part of 2025 and 35 per cent of the following decade.

After news of the deal emerged, Labour councillor Nick Wallis said there was “visceral” anger among people in Darlington, who felt Locomotion No 1 had been stolen and the council’s Head of Steam museum faced becoming “a massive white elephant”.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Boddy said he had felt the deal had been premature as the authority could have looked at the legality of how the National Railway Museum came to own it. He said the council had been secretive about a deal that the residents of Darlington had a right to know about.

Cllr Boddy said: “It is a bit absurd. We’re talking about one museum exhibit in what is the fourth smallest local authority in the country and we’re wrapped up in all these secrets. Everything was dealt with behind closed doors and it’s just unnecessary. The people of the town expect open government, not this.” He said as all the political group leaders on the council had agreed to the deal, he was levelling criticism at them all.

However, Cllr Scott told the cabinet meeting Locomotion No 1’s future had never been a party-political matter and Cllr Wallis’ and Cllr Boddy’s comments had been political, despite their group leaders accepting the agreement.

She said: “Legally we had no option but to accept the terms of the agreement and obtain a new memorandum of understanding that ensured we would have Loco No 1 for the 2025 celebrations and beyond.

“So if these two councillors have issues, it is with their own leadership, and not with me. If this continues to be a party-political issue it could jeopardise the 2025 celebrations and that would be a disaster for Darlington. 2025 is a major issue for the people of Darlington and I think we have to make the best of it.”