THE organisation created a year ago to promote and maintain Hadrian’s Wall has pledged to help create 2,000 jobs by 2012 despite dwindling visitor numbers.
Hadrian’s Wall Heritage (HWH) has revealed ambitious plans to ensure the Wall generates a £1.3bn annual contribution to the North-East economy within five years, helping to create thousands of jobs in tourism and service industries.
However, the group has come under fire as the latest figures show visitor numbers at attractions along the World Heritage site are in decline despite the organisation receiving £1.4m in grants since it was established.
Last year, the number of visitors to the Roman sites and attractions along the Wall fell to 532,000 – down from 560,000 in 2005 and 579,000 in 2004.
This year has so far seen 400,000 people visit attractions such as the Roman Army Museum at Greenhead, Northumberland, and this figure is unlikely to surpass last year’s total with the winter months having historically low visitor numbers.
The organisation’s chief executive Linda Tuttiett said this year’s figures would be similar to last year’s after an “average year” and the dour summer weather.
She also said the group was on target to help Hadrian’s Wall boost its estimated annual contribution to the North-East economy by £200m to £1.3bn by 2012.
As well as bringing more visitors to the region it intends to help develop businesses along the Wall’s corridor.
She said: “The last year has proved to be an immensely busy but incredibly rewarding one for all at Hadrian’s Wall Heritage. We have built our own team and, at the same time, have been building long-term relationships with our partners, stakeholders and funders.”
Meanwhile HWH has been criticised for failing to deliver on some of its targets.
Haltwhistle Town Council chairman Alan Sharp said he had concerns over the organisation’s ability to encourage more people to visit Haltwhistle. He said: “They haven’t delivered as much as they thought they were going to do and it has been a bit slow in delivering.” Patricia Birley, director of the Vindolanda Trust, which manages the Roman fort at Bardon Mill, Northumberland, said the company still had a lot to prove.
She said: “I think the Roman sites are nowhere near to getting back to the peak of the late eighties and early nineties.
“The organisation is still in its infancy and it still has to prove itself. It’s good to have these optimistic targets, but actually achieving them is by no means a quick fix.
“The competition for people’s free time is enormous at the moment and it’s a hard push for everyone.”
Hadrian’s Wall Heritage is charged with marketing, preservation and conservation of the Wall and is funded with £1.4m in annual grants from various sources.
In its first year about half of this was provided by development agency One NorthEast alongside financial backing from English Heritage, Northwest Regional Development Agency and Natural England.