A VICAR has called on communities in a job-starved dale to forget centuries-old rivalries and work together to create a new industrial heritage.

The Rev Philip Greenhalgh has warned that unless villages learn to pull together, there is a real prospect of Weardale being turned into an industrial desert.

He said: "Communities in the dale must get their heads together around the table, otherwise there is a danger of the Government pulling the plug on the whole thing and just walking away."

Mr Greenhalgh, who took over as priest in charge of seven parishes last year, said he and church leaders in County Durham were deeply concerned about the effects of the closure of the Lafarge cement works at Eastgate and the threat to the Weardale Steel plant.

He added: "We are on the brink of a slump similar to that which happened when the lead-mining industry disappeared. The population is diminishing and history could well repeat itself."

Since regional development agency One NorthEast set up a task force charged with bringing new industry and jobs to Weardale, ancient rivalries between communities have come to the fore.

Mr Greenhalgh said: "The dale has changed greatly over the last few years. From conversations I have had I realise how profound those changes have been.

"There are exciting initiatives beginning that could herald a new beginning for the dale. Things will continue to change, we can't do anything to reverse or halt that change.

"But if we work together, we can manage that change and build a new and secure future."