A SUSPENSION bridge across the Tees at Barnard Castle would attract thousands more visitors to the town and result in a multi-million pound boost to the local economy for years to come, according to the results of a feasibility study.

The report, prepared as part of a pre-planning application consultation process which began yesterday, estimates the 265m single span £1.3m bridge and accompanying viewing platform would attract 29,000 new visitors to Teesdale a year and 65,000 a year in total.

As part of the consultation process, displays about the scheme have gone on show at the NeST, in Newgate, Barnard Castle, Teesdale Leisure Centre and the TCR Hub.

Principal project manager Jeanette Armin said initial feedback from the 50 to 60 people who had turned up at the NeST yesterday had been mainly positive.

“The whole premise of the bridge is that it creates an economic uplift. It would create a twomile circular walk to appreciate the heritage and culture of the area with the bridge to create a ‘wow’ factor as part of it.

“It would be an iconic structure and unique to the UK – there would be nothing else like it in the country.”

Ms Armin said the two landowners who would be most directly affected by the bridge had signalled their support for the project, but acknowledged that others over whose property footpaths and bridleways ran were opposed to the project.

“Access to the bridge and viewing platform is to be made via the existing footpath and bridleway,”

she said.

“The premise of the project is that the bridge becomes part of the existing woodland walking network.”

While Durham County Council has met the cost of the feasibility study and will cover planning costs, cash for building the bridge will be raised from grants, donations and other organisations, such as the EU and the National Lottery.

However, should the bridge be built, it would become the county council’s responsibility as far as maintenance is concerned.

The cost of the project was the main concern of Brian and Isobel Ridley, who were among those who turned out to give their views.

“I think it is a terrible waste of money,” said Mr Ridley.

“It would be better employed providing more street cleaners – or could the money be spent on a relief road, that’s a very sensible idea.”

Mrs Ridley said the lack of parking in Barnard Castle would be a problem if the bridge was to attract an extra 29,000 visitors each year.

“Driving through is a nightmare,”

she said.

Ms Armin said a series of traffic surveys had been completed which indicate that while some streets of packed to capacity, off-street car parks operate on only 50 per cent usage.

The consultation concludes at 4pm on Monday. Anyone is welcome at the displays and there is a questionnaire which can be completed for those wishing to make their views known.

Once all comments have been reviewed, a planning application could be submitted by the end of next month.