Hopes are still high that a new owner will emerge soon for a troubled North-East steelworks.

Amid speculation and rumour, administrators who have been handling the affairs of Weardale Steel at Wolsingham, County Durham, for the last few months said yesterday that talks over the future of the plant were progressing.

But they still refused to identify any prospective buyer or buyers of the 140-year-old steelworks, which went into administration following a disastrous takeover.

At first, they were reports that Weardale Steel was to be taken over by the Bonds foundry at nearby Tow Law after it was called in by the administrators to complete important overseas contracts at Wolsingham.

But these were discounted by Bonds management. More recently there have been reports that the Anglo-Swedish group, which has a base in Newcastle, were having takeover talks. But there has been no official confirmation of this either.

Philip Revill, partner with Sheffield-based administrators Poppleton and Appleby, told the Northern Echo: "All I can say is that negotiations to try to secure the future of Weardale Steel are still going on."

Meanwhile, former managing director Bill Cooper, who is leading a workers's consortuium bidding to buy the company, said they were now having talks with a firm of Scottish financiers. They have already been helped by the union-backed bank, Unity, in preparing a business plan to take over Weardale Steel.

Mr Cooper was made redundant, along with 85 workers, when Weardale Steel was bought by Midlands-based Eastwood Industries last August for just £1. Shortly afterwards the company went into administration.

Former shop steward Kenny Lally said yesterday: "There have been rumours and speculation in the dale ever since the administrators moved in.

"What the former workers and their families want to know now is what is exactly the future for steel-making in Weardale.

"It's time a firm decision was taken over the future of the company".