Seaham underpass hits an impasse as church haggles over land sale

Pastor Gordon Bulmer from the Ebeneezer Harbour Walk Christian Fellowship and the new tunnel under the railway line behind the chapel next to Seaham railway station.
Pastor Gordon Bulmer from the Ebeneezer Harbour Walk Christian Fellowship and the new tunnel under the railway line behind the chapel next to Seaham railway station.
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THIS is the tunnel to nowhere – thanks to a stalemate between landowners and rail chiefs.

Worshippers at Seaham’s Ebenezer Evangelical Church turned up to a Sunday service to find workers clearing its land to make way for the tunnel from Station Road to Harbour Walk, beneath the town’s railway line.

A mix-up over the plot’s ownership was caused by a map produced by a third party, which stated the town council was the land owner.

But the church, which is the true owner, has not sold the site to Network Rail, causing an impasse between the parties and a pathway which only leads to a dead end.

Church bosses are said to be considering a second, higher offer for all of its land, while Seaham Town Council has turned down permission to take the route through its own neighbouring plot, which links to the old mineral line pathway.

Council members fear a repeat of issues caused at the new bridge crossing at the town’s Princess Road, which has left those with pushchairs, wheelchairs or mobility scooters facing a diversion.

Clive Todd, who runs a newsagents next to the station, said: “I’m not against the tunnel, we’ve got to accept the fact we have to provide disabled access.

“They cannot build a path at the end of the tunnel now – it comes out to nothing. It’s a right botch up.”

Richard Whiteman, one of the trustees of the church, which has stood on Harbour Walk since 1971, said: “We are in discussions with Network Rail about what they are going to do about it, but the fact is we own the land and we’ve got a solicitor on the case.

“We have the opportunity to improve the look of this area as a gateway to the town.”

The issue has been taken up by Durham County Councillor Dan Myers, who said: “We want to make sure the general public get what’s best for the community.

“This is going to last for 60 to 70 years and we need to get it right now.”

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said the halt to works was costing it thousands of pounds and added: “Unfortunately, as yet, no arrangement with the church has been possible and as of this Friday, the contractor will be standing down until the situation can be resolved.”