WORK on a long-awaited footpath linking two villages near Darlington may start next week - in the nick of time.

Plans for a path between Neasham and Hurworth have finally come to fruition after 20 years of setbacks, with a compulsory purchase order due to be confirmed this week.

Walking between the two villages has meant using the increasingly busy road way as there are no other footpaths connecting the two communities.

The timing of the scheme has been crucial, as Darlington Borough Council's £115,000 funding for the cycleway and path will be lost if work does not start before March 31.

Members of Neasham Parish Council were told the news by chairman John Weighell on Monday.

In a statement, Darlington Borough Council's director of development, John Buxton, said: "There has been no objection from the landowner to the proposed compulsory purchase order for land required for a footpath link to Hurworth.

"The Government office have to confirm the order which they are giving top priority with a promise that we should have the order confirmed this week. We anticipate a start on the site next Monday."

Neasham and Hurworth Parish Councils have been fighting for the path for almost two decades.

On Tuesday, Coun Weighell said: "After many years of campaigning, the villagers will be delighted with this news."

Hurworth Parish Council's chairman, Coun Clive Bullock, said: "We are delighted. This problem has been going on for 20 years or so. It is a much busier road these days with people using it as a short cut to avoid Morrison's roundabout.

"The main problem has been getting the land required and if this has been achieved that is marvellous."