Plans to better connect rural communities and restore and develop heritage sites and railways in County Durham have been given the green light in today’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Durham County Council has been successful in bidding for £20 million from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund.

The money will be used by the council to reopen Whorlton Bridge, deliver the A68 Toft Hill bypass and to create a heritage corridor along the Stockton and Darlington Railway line.

Whorlton Bridge, which is the UK’s oldest road suspension bridge, has been closed to all users since December last year.

As well as providing access to the A66, A67 and Barnard Castle from nearby villages, the bridge also forms part of the National Cycle Network (NCN) and Teesdale Way, offering connections for short and long-distance active travel.

With funding now in place to support the necessary works, the bridge is expected to reopen in spring 2023. A visitor centre will also be developed as part of the works, allowing users to celebrate the bridge’s transport heritage.

The award will also allow the re-routing of the A68 at Toft Hill, creating a new 1.6-kilometre bypass away from the village centre which will link from the junction of Hartbrigg Lane to the junction of the A68 at Toft Hill Lane.

With an average of 8,000 vehicles using the road each day, re-routing will help to improve journey times, reduce traffic and improve road safety through the village.

Ahead of the bi-centenary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 2025, funding will be used to help build on the area’s reputation as the birthplace of modern railways.

Increased car parking at Locomotion in Shildon, as well as the new Locomotion Building 2 and improvements that will see heritage engines run along the museum line, will allow for more visitors to the attraction.

Celebrating and preserving heritage assets across the county, including the Stockton and Darlington Railway, are a key part of the council’s bid to be named UK City of Culture 2025.

An 18-kilometre walking and cycling route will also support residents and visitors in active travel, linking rural communities to Bishop Auckland and Newton Aycliffe, as well as to the National Cycle Network.

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “We welcome the announcement of £20 million investment into our infrastructure here in County Durham. As part of our ambitious plans to regenerate the county’s towns and villages and ensure County Durham remains a fantastic place to live, work and visit, it is so important that rural communities feel well connected to improve their quality of life. We are really pleased that this funding is going to support that.

“It will increase opportunities for people to connect to their neighbouring towns and villages, improving access to employment, education and leisure offers. It will also help us to encourage people to make active choices in the way they travel through the development of walking and cycling routes.”

Cllr James Rowlandson, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for resources, investment and assets, said: “We are delighted to have been successful in bidding for £20 million from the Levelling Up Fund. This will help us to achieve the very best outcomes for our communities.

“We want to ensure all constituency areas in County Durham get equal opportunities to benefit from the Levelling Up Fund and we look forward to working with local members and MPs on identified community priorities to prepare further submissions and make a real difference to people’s lives and opportunities.”

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