A County Durham MP has said reopening a former railway line would be “transformational” despite concerns it would destroy a popular walking route and nature hotspot. 

Supporters claim the ambitious project on the Derwent Walk Railway Path will connect isolated communities via a new train station in Consett and boost the local economy of County Durham.

But options include laying tracks on disused railway lines now used as popular leisure routes such as the Derwent Walk or the Coast to Coast cycle route through Stanley.

The 12-mile walk, formerly the Derwent Valley Railway, which opened in 1867 but was closed in 1963 under the Beeching cuts, is popular with dog walkers, hikers, cyclists and horse riders.

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A proposed route for the Consett-Tyne link would also travel through Stanley and connect at Chester-le-Street.

The Department for Transport confirmed the scheme progressed to the second round of the Restoring Your Railways Ideas Fund and received funding for the submission of a business case in November 2021. 

A recent update from transport minister Huw Merriman said an announcement on the next steps for the scheme is expected later this year. 

Responding to the letter, North West Durham MP Richard Holden said it's an “incredibly exciting time for the project”.

The Conservative MP added: “A new fixed public transport link between Consett and Tyneside is something I have campaigned for since before I was elected.

“I have done all I can to make the case and I support the strategic outline business case that was developed with the best value benefit-cost ratio showing a route from Consett, through Stanley and connecting in at Chester-Le-Street.

“As there is currently no fixed public transport link in our area, this development would be transformational, encouraging more people to live and work in our beautiful area. I await the minister’s decision as to the next steps.”

Yet objectors continue their opposition to the plans. John Davidson, who founded the Facebook group, Help Save Our Derwent Walk, which now has over 6,600 members, helped collect over 25,000 signatures on a petition to demonstrate the depth of feeling in the community.

The Northern Echo: Help Save Our Derwent Walk campaigner, John Davidson Help Save Our Derwent Walk campaigner, John Davidson (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

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“People realised how precious the Derwent Walk was as a resource during Covid. It seemed like absolute folly to destroy something that's a valuable resource for accessing nature and the environment.,” he said. 

“People have made the assumption it isn’t going to happen and we’ve not had any indication of what’s going on. There’s huge deficits and I can’t see, with the current economic situation, that the plans will progress soon.”

North Durham Kevan Jones, who represents the neighbouring North Durham constituency, also dismissed the Tory MP’s proposals as ‘an expensive PR stunt’.