AMBITIOUS plans to re-open a former railway viaduct for cyclists and walkers appear to have finally come off the rails.
Despite £500,000 People’s Lottery money being made available to reopen Belmont Viaduct, on the outskirts of Durham, the money has now been diverted elsewhere.
Thousands of walkers and cyclists were to have benefited from Sustrans’ Connect2 win in The People’s £50m contest.
The project would have seen the former Belmont Viaduct transformed into a footpath, cycle route and bridleway linking Belmont and Newton Hall, via the city centre.
The proposed redevelopment of Belmont Viaduct was offered £500,000 as part of a £50m cash pot awarded to transport charity Sustrans through ITV’s People’s Millions show.
But the money was dependent on the county council being able to secure land at Belmont, which, a spokesman said, has not been possible “despite significant effort”.
The viaduct was to have formed part of a Necklace Park, to create a 12-mile walkway along the River Wear but the body behind the scheme, Durham City Vision, has now been scrapped.
Yesterday local county councillor Mark Wilkes, a Liberal Democrat, criticised the county council for failing to explain to the public the reasons behind the viaduct scheme’s collapse. He said: “The council was unable or incapable depending on your view to negotiate passage across a particular landowner’s land to ensure that the viaduct project could go ahead. I did suggest some alternatives but they decided that it wasn’t possible.
“To avoid losing the (People’s Lottery) funding, it was transferred to a project to upgrade a route between Shildon and I think Newton Aycliffe – a worthy project, but not as impressive as the work which could have taken place at the viaduct. The project required that the upgrade was to a specific national standard, hence the high cost. I did suggest that they look at a lower standard of upgrade which would still have been suitable for pedestrians and perhaps for cyclists to push their bikes across the viaduct but this wasn’t seen as viable either and wouldn’t have secured the external funding.
“The real disgrace in all of this is that the County Council hasn’t explained any of this to the general public. Bear in mind that it was the public who voted for this after much publicity and thousands of leaflets being delivered by local councillors as well.”
A spokesman for Durham County Council said: “The money is still with the authority and has been transferred to another project to create a cycle link.”