A high street will lose £3m in levelling up funding to a “jewel” park and ambitious cycle path plans will be scaled back under changes approved by council leaders.

Council officers say they have found they can make improvements to Yarm High Street for a fraction of the money which had been set aside, while Preston Park Museum and Grounds will need more cash to complete its proposed works. So it has been agreed to reallocate £3m from the high street to the park.

Stockton Council’s cabinet agreed to move the funds last week. Members of the cabinet also criticised the failure to give levelling up money to Billingham, which lost its bid earlier this year, and the latest Budget.

The money comes from £20m from the first round of the government’s Levelling Up Fund, approved in 2021. It was originally divided into £9m for Preston Park Museum and Grounds, £6.5m for Yarm High Street and £4.5m for cycle infrastructure, with more money from Stockton Borough and Yarm Town councils.

Preston Park Museum and Grounds are to be “transformed”, with a new exhibition space and extension, a feature to celebrate the Stockton and Darlington Railway, a new use for the aviary, café refurbishment, demolishing and replacing a toilet block and improved parking.

The estimated budget for this work is now £12.4m – £3.4m more than previously allocated. Meanwhile Yarm High Street is said to need almost £3m less as the plans are drawn up in more detail.

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That project is aimed at improving footpaths, reducing street clutter, adding seating and planting, larger public spaces, cycle storage, electric vehicle charging points, enhancements to the river and Snaith’s Field play area, but losing of some High Street parking. A council report now says the improvements can be delivered for £3.8m, along with £800,000 for restoring and refurbishing Yarm Town Hall into a new heritage centre and moving public toilets.

Preston Park, Eaglescliffe

Preston Park, Eaglescliffe

Officers found plans to retrofit roads and paths with cycle routes “proved challenging”, and the original proposals would be “unaffordable” at more than £12.5m. It has been decided to focus on one route – Elton Interchange to Eaglescliffe School.

The recommendations were briefly discussed then approved at the cabinet meeting, but discussions turned to Billingham and the government’s Budget. Councillor Nigel Cooke, cabinet member for regeneration and housing, said: “We’re still digesting some of the announcements in yesterday’s Budget with regards to levelling up funding.

“We’re still reeling from the decision the government took not so long ago about the refusal of the levelling up funding bid in Billingham. We’re seeing yet again on the back of today’s announcement more levelling up funding going into parts of the Tees Valley.

“It’s an emotive subject, certainly for the people of Billingham. Just what do you have to do to get that funding and what has the government got against places like Billingham?”

Cllr Nigel Cooke from Stockton Council

Cllr Nigel Cooke from Stockton Council

But he welcomed progress in the first round of the funding. He added: “I really think we’re in a good place. The report sets out the good progress that has been made, especially in places like Yarm High Street, Yarm Town Hall and Preston Park Museum and Grounds.

“We have a much more detailed evidence base of information with regards to the feasibility and cost of the cycleways.”

Council leader Cllr Bob Cook said of the Billingham bid: “I think it was a shame they let us do an application, then once the application was in they changed the goalposts by saying anybody who got money in the first round wouldn’t be getting it in the second round.

“They could have actually told us that before we spent the resources to the council, staff and money, to put an application in for the second round of levelling up money.”

Cllr Ann McCoy said: “I wouldn’t say anything against this application, particularly Preston Park is a jewel. But as a Billingham councillor, I have to say and I make no apology for it, it was appalling that Billingham was left out."