Thousands of residents are outraged at plans to introduce a transport link on a disused railway on Derwent Walk.
Derwent Walk is a scenic route that runs 12 miles between Consett and Gateshead. The stretch is rich with both wildlife and history and is used by many for walks, horseriding and bike riding.
But North West Durham MP Richard Holden has put forward a proposal to introduce a rail link between Consett and Newcastle.
With the threat of history and natural habitats being destroyed, more than 5,500 people have now joined the community action Facebook group, Help Save Our Derwent Walk in protest of Mr Holden’s campaign.
Local resident, John Davidson, set up the group after moving to the area from Newcastle with his family to help support their mental health and wellbeing.
The 50-year-old dad of three said: “One of our reasons for moving from town was seeing how important outdoor spaces are for mental health and physical exercise especially because of lockdown.
“I’m really amazed and quite shocked that someone thinks that this is a good idea. I think the MP doesn’t realise what an important resource it is for people in the Derwent Valley and beyond.
“There is a lot of bad feeling about it and anger. This should not go ahead under any circumstances.
“It has a huge swathe of natural habitats on either side of the line such as red kites that have recently been introduced in the area which attracts people from all over the country. Alongside Derwent Walk’s immense historic significance to the area.
“We want to save our Derwent Walk from this immediate threat, and to try and protect the Derwent Walk for the future and find a way to give it some type of protective status”
The Derwent Valley Railway was opened in 1867 and carried passengers and goods between Newcastle and Consett until the line finally closed due to lack of use and converted into a bridleway in 1962.
It still has several structures of historical interest including the site of Derwenthaugh cokeworks, Axwell Hall, Hollinside Manor, Gibside Hall and the impressive Nine Arches Viaduct at Derwenthaugh Country Park.
Today, the Derwent Walk passes through woodland, ponds and riverside areas and is home to wildlife including green and great spotted woodpecker, foxes, roe deer and badgers.
Help Save Our Derwent group are now currently in process of submitting an opposition report to Durham County Council opposing the proposal.
Many people argue that public transport links between the former steel town and Tyneside aren't needed as there are regular bus services to the Metrocentre and Newcastle city centre, using the A694, which is adjacent to parts of the walk.
Sian Dickson, a member of the Facebook group, said: “My initial reaction was disbelief.
“I understand the need for a feasibility study, this is exactly what they are for, but I think what Mr Holden is proposing can’t be done.
“Anyone who has any knowledge of the area knows that there are major problems at Swalwell, Rowlands Gill, Hamsterley and Consett so it would be impossible to be done. The study would have been better presented elsewhere on a different project.
“Mr Holden promised the people of North West Durham a Metro link that would join Tyne and Wear Metro but he didn’t promise reopening Derwent Line and destroying this marvellous area of outstanding beauty.
“It would be so devastating to so many people to lose that and all its history. I feel strongly that there is a better way of doing this
“Derwent Walk already has a fantastic bus service, Mr Holden has promised this to the people of Consett but he is forgetting everyone else along the rest of the line and other people in his constituency.”
The plans for a new and improved link is said to boost the local economy, create new job opportunities and opportunities for young people and boost tourism in the area.
Mr Holden said funding for a feasibility study into the scheme has been made available.
The MP has received the support of both the Prime Minister and the Transport Secretary, with The Department for Transport funding 75% of costs (up to £50,000).
And Project Genesis, a local regeneration group formed after the closure of Consett’s Steel Works is to benefit and invest in the local community, have now pledged to fund the local portion of the feasibility study, up to £15,000, in a move that shows their commitment to Richard’s campaign.
This local funding would ensure that Durham County Council does not pay anything towards the feasibility study in a move that would save local taxpayer money.
Anneliese Hutchinson, Service Director for Development, Transport and Public Protection at Gateshead Council, said: “We are keen to see the development of more sustainable modes of transport in Gateshead.
“However, there are obvious significant environmental and public amenity concerns about a route through the Derwent Valley, as well as significant practical issues with any route from the northern end of the Derwent Walk through to a connection with the existing rail network.
“An initial look at these would suggest that achieving a feasible rail route along the Derwent Valley may well be both unrealistic and undesirable and we will want these concerns to be fully considered as part of any study. We hope to be involved as this particular study progresses.”
Dave Wafer, Durham County Council’s head of transport and contract services, said: “Following proposals to reopen a rail link from Consett, we were requested by the government to act as an accountable body to carry out an assessment of the proposal and present this for consideration.
“This study will consider how people travel from the Consett area towards Tyneside and examine a range of improvements, including a potential rail link. The study will be completed in the Autumn with the results being shared with the public. The level of future public engagement will be dependent on the conclusions reached.
“At this stage this is a very high-level study looking at population and residential distribution, rather than the detail of how any solution could be delivered.”
Richard Holden MP said: “I’m absolutely delighted that so many people are letting their voices be heard regarding the Derwent Walk.
“The feasibility study, backed by Durham County Council, will report later this year. At that point we’ll have all the facts at hand to see what, if any, options for the future look viable and can have a broad community discussion on what the next steps should be.
“I’ve made it clear from the start that at the heart of this should be ways to improve the cycling and walking possibilities as well as disabled access which is incredibly difficult on large parts of the route at the moment.”