THE multi-million pound refurbishment of a Darlington park has moved a step closer.

Darlington Borough Council is seeking National Lottery funding to restore South Park to its Victorian glory.

The authority was celebrating yesterday after it was revealed that its bid has cleared the first hurdle.

The Heritage Lottery Fund trustees have given their approval to the first stage of the council's bid for £2.835m for the restoration of the park. Although the bid has to go through a further stage, this announcement means that National Lottery money has been earmarked for the project.

The funding will form 75 per cent of the total cost of £3.78m for the restoration project.

Darlington council will contribute £670,000, with other contributions coming from its partners and the public.

South Park, which opened in 1853, was the first public park in the North-East. It attracts more than 350,000 visitors each year.

The project aims to return the park to its former glory, improve public access, introduce new features, improve facilities for visitors, enhance educational opportunities, provide features for the visually impaired and improve access for the disabled.

Work will include restoring the bandstand, building a visitors' centre, refurbishing the lake, creating a sensory garden and creating play facilities for young people.

Darlington's Mayor, Councillor Dorothy Long, who is also the council's cabinet member for leisure services, last night welcomed the announcement from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

"It is wonderful news and is an important step towards achieving our goal," she said.

"The announcement is not a firm offer, but it does mean that Heritage Lottery money has been earmarked for our project.

"We now have to provide more details on design and costs, and we still have to find about £250,000 to achieve our target of match funding."

South Park is the venue for two of Darlington's biggest annual events, the Darlington Championship Dog Show and the fireworks display