A CONTROVERSIAL autistic centre could prove the solution to providing a longed-for footpath between Neasham and Hurworth.

Ironically, Neasham Parish Council recently resigned itself to the fact it could not raise enough money to buy the land needed to provide a safe route between the two villages.

But on Wednesday, Darlington Borough Council planning committee approved an application by Castlebeck Care to turn the Newbus Arms Hotel, in Hurworth Road, Neasham, into a care home for autistic adults - provided it gave £25,000 towards the footpath.

Neighbours had objected to the plans on the grounds of potential noise nuisance, increased traffic and fears that residents would be allowed to wander.

A planning official told the D&S Times: "The two villages have long expressed the view that a footpath was needed, but the council has not had the money.

"Castlebeck Care offered £25,000 to kick off the project and we made that a condition of approval. The money will go into the pot and the authority will then seek out other sources of funding to complete the work.

"If the work is not done within five years, then the money is returned to the applicant. But we will make every reasonable endeavour to do it."

Coun John Weighell, chairman of Neasham Parish Council, told the D&S Times: "This has come out of the blue.

"Yes, it is wonderful news. But my personal view is that after all these years of campaigning, I would hate to get the footpath at the expense of the residents at Newbus.

"We were not even consulted about the change because the hotel is just over the boundary in Hurworth. But four of the Newbus houses are in Neasham.

"I would like to know what research has been done to ensure that people living nearby are not going to be disturbed."