A LONG-TERM scheme aimed at making Barnard Castle one of the most vibrant market towns in the region was welcomed by councillors on Monday, albeit with reservations.

Work will begin shortly on the first phase of the regeneration project, outlined in the D&S Times last month. But members of the town council have expressed concern about a lack of consultation on planning issues and the loss of free parking spaces.

"We are a planning committee, should we not have known about this before reading it in the Press," said Coun Alan Wilkinson.

Rod Lugg, of Durham County Council, apologised for the lack of consultation, saying time was of the essence as the money allocated had to be spent by the end of the financial year.

David McKnight, of Teesdale Market Towns Initiative, said the first aim of the five- to ten-year programme was to make a big difference to the core of the town.

But Coun Eric Fell tempered his enthusiasm with concerns about parking.

"We can't keep minimising the amount of spaces," he said. "What are we doing to compensate?"

Members were glad to hear that it was proposed to resurface the Hole in the Wall car park and improve its entrance. But they were unsure about the creation of an arched egress from Newgate, with Coun Wilkinson sure a similar scheme had been turned down by highways many years ago, long before there was the amount of traffic that now used the route.

"And Teesdale Council will probably charge for parking even though they are not paying for the refurbishment and it will do away with more free parking," said Coun Fell.

However, Mr McKnight pointed out that marking out proper bays when the Market Place cobbles were replaced would lead to more disciplined parking and more space, with any loss of parking outweighed by the benefits of creating a sense of Barnard Castle being a special place to visit.

But members felt people would only visit if they had somewhere to park.