Visionary Auckland Castle project takes a leap forward

Four schemes totalling £24m are going before Durham County Council - and work could start next year

An artist impression of the exterior of the proposed Spanish art gallery
An artist impression of the exterior of the proposed Spanish art gallery

The multi-million pound regeneration of Auckland Castle has taken a leap forward this month when plans are lodged at Durham County Council.

The Journal revealed in May how as many as 130 new jobs could be created at the heritage site following the announcement of a new £17m building construction – the most pivotal transformation of the castle in nearly 300 years.

Now four ground-breaking schemes including the museum extension – together totalling more than £24m – will be lodged with Durham County Council before Christmas.

If approved the multiple projects could herald the economic revival of the once prosperous town of Bishop Auckland, breathing new life into centuries old Auckland Castle as well the historic market town in which it stands.

The Palace of the Prince Bishops of Durham plans submitted include the £17m restoration of the castle, which has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), including the construction of the new museum wing, telling the story of all religious faiths in Britain.

They also include the creation of a £2.5m visitor welcome centre, incorporating a 27m tower, the £3m transformation of a former bank in Bishop Auckland Market Square into a new a Spanish art gallery.

The fourth part of the jigsaw will see a £1.5m development to turn an adjacent derelict building into a study facility for post graduate students of the arts.

Together, the proposals total £24.25m and will create scores of new jobs as well as injecting investment into the area, and subject to planning approval, work will begin in 2015.

 

David Ronn, chief executive of the Auckland Castle Trust, the charitable group behind the developments, said while the castle had undergone many changes since it was first built, few had been as visionary as those set to take place now.

But it was intended the developments at both the castle – bought in 2012 by City investor Jonathan Ruffer who handed it over to the Trust which he now chairs – and the north end of Bishop Auckland should act as spur to revitalise the once highly prosperous town.

Mr Ronn said: “Our aim in all this is to be a catalyst for the regeneration of Bishop Auckland and especially the historic and very fine Market Square at the northern end, linked historically both physically and through use with the castle and the Deer Park beyond.

“By working closely with responsible organisations such as Durham County Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as the Town Team, the Civic Society of Bishop Auckland and a wide range of local people and businesses, we believe that the Market Square and surrounding streets will become once more places of fine and functional buildings, busy and active with people and trade, and a source of pride for those who care about it.”

The work of the trust over the last two years has created 40 jobs.

“Those numbers will grow,” Mr Ronn said. “As will the numbers of local contractors that we use who are nearly all drawn from the area. Already we employ the services of 100 local contractors and suppliers.

“We have been very active focussing our efforts beyond the castle walls and out into the Market Square of Bishop Auckland, once a place alive with activity and trade, surrounded by fine buildings which stand witness to the status and wealth of this former great coal mining town.

“We have planned and we have consulted with a range of local and national experts. We have also spoken to the community.

Further planning submissions are expected to be made in the coming weeks for a £2.5m endeavour to drill for geothermal energy to heat the palace and other buildings, the castle’s derelict 300 year old walled garden and the Postchaise and Queen’s Head Hotels.

A planning application for the Eleven Arches site is also being prepared with a view to its being submitted either before of just after Christmas, to see the creation of a spectacular £20m open air night show by May 2016, which could create up to 560 indirect jobs It is overseen by the Eleven Arches charity, but is separate to the Auckland Castle Trust’s own sweeping plans.

Mr Ronn added: “Subject to planning approval, in 2015 all these projects will start to come to fruition and those who have believed in Jonathan Ruffer’s vision will see it turn to reality.

“With those plans will come a range of opportunities for people living here and further afield.”

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