A transport minister has claimed that the reopening of a disused rail line would be "transformational" for the North East.
The Derwent Valley Railway was closed in 1963 during the Beeching cuts and has become a popular walking route since.
However, there has been a long-running campaign to restore the line between Consett and Chester-Le-Street with a station in Stanley.
The Department for Transport confirmed the scheme progressed to the second round of the 'Restoring Your Railways Ideas Fund' and received funding for the submission of a business case in November 2021.
Roads minister and North West Durham MP Richard Holden has described it as an “incredibly exciting time for the project”
He added: “A new fixed public transport link between Consett and Tyneside is something I have campaigned for since before I was elected.
“I have done all I can to make the case and I support the strategic outline business case that was developed with the best value benefit-cost ratio showing a route from Consett, through Stanley and connecting in at Chester-Le-Street.
“As there is currently no fixed public transport link in our area, this development would be transformational, encouraging more people to live and work in our beautiful area. I await the minister’s decision as to the next steps.”
However, there are many objections to the plans, particularly from those who are regular users of the walk.
John Davidson, who founded the Facebook group, Help Save Our Derwent Walk, which now has over 6,600 members, helped collect over 25,000 signatures on a petition to demonstrate the depth of feeling in the community.
“People realised how precious the Derwent Walk was as a resource during Covid," he said. "It seemed like absolute folly to destroy something that’s a valuable resource for accessing nature and the environment.
“People have made the assumption it isn’t going to happen and we’ve not had any indication of what’s going on. There are huge deficits and I can’t see, with the current economic situation, that the plans will progress soon.”
North Durham Kevan Jones MP, who represents the neighbouring North Durham constituency, also dismissed Mr Holden's proposals as "an expensive PR stunt".
An announcement on the next steps for the scheme is expected later this year.
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