CALLS to build a new village bypass and to reopen an historic bridge shut over safety fears could take a big step forward next week.
Durham County Council is working with MPs to draw up submissions to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund for all its constituency areas and the first one will ask for £20m for Bishop Auckland.
The bid includes a plan to re-route the A68 to bypass Toft Hill, where many residents have complained about the volume of heavy traffic including HGVs and fears about road safety for years.
MP Dehenna Davison made the bypass one of her election campaign pledges, has raised it in parliament and she took Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to the village to discuss the proposal – which villagers and local politicians have been debating for decades.
There are plans to reopen Whorlton Bridge, a Grade II listed scheduled monument, to vehicles and pedestrians.
It was shut to vehicles in 2019 amid fears the bridge, which is the UK’s oldest suspension bridge and opened in 1831, could suffer a “catastrophic” collapse.
And the bid includes further development at the site of railway museum Locomotion, in Shildon, including a new walking and cycling route along the old railway line to link Newton Aycliffe, Shildon and Bishop Auckland.
Durham County Council said improving connectivity for rural communities, reducing transport times and expanding economic and cultural opportunities are the focus of the three schemes it wants to submit for additional government funding.
The authority’s Cabinet will be asked to support the submission for a £20 million contribution in the first round of the LUF, when members meet on Wednesday, June 16.
Councillor Richard Bell, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for finance, said: “We need to ensure we put forward well thought out submissions to take advantage of the opportunities for levelling up funding so we can make a real difference to people’s lives and opportunities.
“This bid is all about transport, connectivity and culture: improving travel on the A68 and improving the quality of life for the people in Toft Hill; reopening the heritage asset of Whorlton Bridge; further improving the railway heritage at Locomotion, and footpaths and cycleways in that area so that people can travel between our towns and villages by cycling on safe and pleasant routes.”
Cllr James Rowlandson, Cabinet member for resources, investment and assets, said: “We are committed to working in partnership to achieving the very best outcomes for our communities and to keeping them fully involved in our plans.
“We will be working with local members and MPs on identified community priorities to prepare further submissions in line with government timescales to ensure all constituency areas in the county get equal opportunities to benefit from this funding.”
The council said the Bishop Auckland submission was considered good value for money and the most advanced in its readiness.
The timing of further phases has yet to be announced but is expected to be within the next 12 months.
The council will put forward a range of projects across the county for culture, regeneration and transport.
Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, added: “It is important that we leverage as much funding into the county for levelling up as we can.
“County Durham is the eighth largest local authority area in the UK and the largest local authority in the North-East.
The county is home to more than 14,000 businesses employing 183,000 people.
“More than 20 million tourists spend nearly £1 billion in the county each year.
“We will also be working with regional partners to explore the possibility of cross boundary transport proposals that could see an additional LUF investment proposal of up to £50 million to benefit residents and businesses across the county.”
The government announced the application process for the first round of its national Levelling Up Fund (LUF) in March 2021.
This was for schemes where work was ready to start immediately.
The first round has £600 million available nationally out of funding worth £4 billion for the entire fund.
One bid per parliamentary constituency area is allowed under the scheme which must be delivered by March 2024.
County Durham can submit up to six bids to a total value of £120 million.
Schemes should address social and economic deprivation and contribute to carbon net zero targets.
County Durham has already been identified by central government as one of the areas of greatest need in the UK (a tier 1 area) and a priority for levelling up.
This is because the county includes communities that have some of the highest rates of deprivation in the country, with high levels of unemployment, significant numbers of people with work-limiting health conditions and a sizeable proportion of residents in lower skilled and lower paid jobs.
The number of children living in households claiming out of work benefits is 50 per cent higher than the UK average.
Under the current application rules, councils need to allocate 10 per cent match funding for each submission.
The total scheme is expected to cost £29.3 million.
Support has been received from the Science Museum Group (£2.25 million) with investment of £3.65 million already identified from the council. Cabinet is also asked to approve further funding of £3.4 million to support the scheme.
Cabinet will meet at 9.30am on Wednesday, June 16 in the Council Chamber at County Hall.
Due to social distancing requirements spaces for members of the public are very limited and anyone interested in attending in person must register in advance by emailing [email protected] The meeting will be broadcast live online at https://www.youtube.com/user/DurhamCouncil and members of the public are being encouraged to follow the proceedings this way.