A HERITAGE trust has gone into administration, throwing the future of two major North tourist attractions into doubt.
The North Pennines Heritage Trust, which runs visitor centres at Dilston Castle, near Corbridge, and Nenthead Lead Mines near Alston, has collapsed with undisclosed debts.
Unless new operators can be brought in by the start of the 2012 tourist season next spring, the popular attractions may not be able to reopen.
The trust, with 400 members and a team of volunteers, also owns Alston Arches and the Lambley Viaduct at Haltwhistle.
Trust director Pete Jackson confirmed the collapse yesterday and told The Journal: “The trust leases Dilston Castle from Mencap and Nenthead mines from Cumbria County Council.
“The trust is going into administration, and if the trust ceases to exist, then that’s it.
“The buildings would still be there but it would be up to someone else to come in and run them. New organisations could be set up to take over.
“The attractions have closed for this summer season so there is no immediate loss, but we are now talking to people to see if they can take over.”
The trust received grant aid from Eden and Cumbria councils but in the face of Government spending cuts that had been reduced.
Mr Jackson admitted: “This is something that has been coming for a while – it was a gradual decline over about two or three years. The number of tourists has gradually reduced, too, and what complicated it partly was that we thought we were going to get a refund of VAT into the trust, but that did not materialise. That was the final straw.
“Grant aid relates only to specific tasks, and the truth is that the business model we operate doesn’t deliver enough income. We have trading subsidiaries and those subsidiaries have failed to make a profit.”
One of those, North Pennines Archaeology, ran a summer school. It has now been taken over by environmental consultancy Wardell Armstrong, which has safeguarded the 20 jobs.
However, two full-time staff with the Heritage Trust, a builder and an education officer, have been made redundant and a third, a cleaner, will be laid off within weeks.
It is possible that the Friends of Dilston Castle group, which provides volunteer workers, could be asked to consider a takeover at Dilston.
The trust had been at Dilston for 10 years and Nenthead for 15. The Princess Royal officially opened a restoration of Dilston Castle and chapel buildings two years ago.
Describing the closure of the 1987-established trust as “terribly, terribly sad”, Mr Jackson said the directors would have been guilty of trading illegally if they had tried to carry on.
“Under business law, unless you can clear debts within 12 months you cannot carry on,” he said. “We knew we would be unable to do that, and so made this decision.”
North Shields-based administrators Bell Tindle Williamson will meet trust directors at Nenthead on September 28.