A bold, £100m vision to bring a spectacular open air night show and historical leisure park to County Durham was unveiled yesterday.
The ambitious plans backed by well-known philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer for the former Eleven Arches golf club in Bishop Auckland aim to pull in millions of visitors to the region and create at least 300 jobs.
Designed to celebrate Durham’s history as the land of Prince Bishops and the nearby Auckland Castle as the seat of the Bishop of Durham, the Eleven Arches project will enlist the skills of a team of 600 volunteers for grand, after-hours performances by 2016, while the 115-acre park welcome paying visitors by 2020.
The scheme hopes to emulate the splendour of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony and features of the popular Puy du Fou theme park in western France, with organisers working with staff across the Channel.
It comes after Mr Ruffer - who also saved the famous Francisco de Zurbarán paintings from sale by The Church Commissioners - bought Auckland Castle in 2012 and handed it over to a trust as part of a £50m project to transform the building into a tourist and heritage destination.
Action-packed historical re-enactments to include a mock Viking invasion, jousting knights and Roman gladiators will form part of a “visually stunning” night display, Anne-Isabelle Daulon, who is leading the Eleven Arches project, told journalists gathered at the launch yesterday.
Mr Ruffer added: “We have a template with a proven track record. Puy du Fou is the best of the best and they are helping us with the project, and our aspirations mirror theirs.
“If we can couple a beautiful night show with a successful day park then we will have a winning formula in County Durham. It’s a marriage made in heaven.”
Dr Robert McManners, chairman of Bishop Auckland Civic Society, said: “The Eleven Arches plan is a far-sighted idea which encourages involvement at all levels and is the vehicle to stimulate a sense of ownership and local and national pride by participating in the celebration of our town’s remarkable place in history.”
The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler said: “The Eleven Arches project is an ambitious and exciting one.
“It offers the development of volunteering and employment opportunities through events and attractions that could draw many people to Bishop Auckland.
“It is a project I am pleased to endorse and trust it will be successful.”