Minister asked to explain Northumberland tourism centre funding snub

Northumberland County Council raises questions over a cash blow for The Sill project in Northumberland National Park

An image of the final design for the The Sill landscape discovery centre
An image of the final design for the The Sill landscape discovery centre

A minister will be asked to explain a funding snub which puts on hold plans for a multi-million pound Northumberland tourism centre.

Northumberland County Council is writing to Greg Clark to ask whether it was his department that was to blame for denying funding to the Sill project, a National Landscape Discovery Centre in the Northumberland National Park.

It had been hoped that the centre near Bardon Mill would get Government help in meeting its £10m building cost.

That hope was dashed when the Local Enterprise Partnership, tasked with bringing together £120m of North East cash bids, told the council it was under the impression Government funds will not be handed to tourism projects, a claim Mr Clark’s office has denied.

A letter to the Government seeking urgent clarification comes as a new report commissioned by the National Park showed that the centre could bring in 100,000 visitors a year, add £5m to the regional tourism economy and create around 117 jobs.

Council leader Grant Davey suggests in his letter that both the Government and the partnership are to blame for the jobs snub.

He says: “We believe that both the local enterprise partnership and Government are potentially missing an excellent opportunity to stimulate growth. The project will support the resilience of the rural economy and crucially can be effectively delivered in 2015/16.

“Tourism related activity has the potential to add further value to the economy but only if visitor experiences and facilities are invested in through projects like the Sill adding quality experiences.”

Tony Gates, chief executive of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “Recent reports may have suggested that the future funding of The Sill is uncertain but we want to remind people that we are making great progress and this is the last push to raise funds needed to make the project a reality.

“The Sill has the potential to create huge dividends for the North East economy, rural businesses and the communities at the heart of Northumberland. It will be a focal point for the understanding and enjoyment of our natural environment and will be a great resource for young people to discover their countryside. We are encouraged by the support we have already received from the Heritage Lottery Fund which has pledged nearly 60% of the costs.”

The Sill’s project director, Stuart Evans, stated: “Northumberland’s rural economy is based on two key business sectors – tourism and agricultural. The Sill will provide a hub for local businesses and state-of-the-art training and education, drawing universities and schools from across the country.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer