Olive branch pacifies team furious over plan 'hijack'

AN entrepreneur has extended an olive branch to villagers after causing anger by the way he revealed his plans for a £50m tourism and leisure complex in Northumberland.

The site near Widdrington of the proposed Blue Sky Forest adventure holiday park. Insest, artist's impression of the ski slope
The site near Widdrington of the proposed Blue Sky Forest adventure holiday park. Insest, artist's impression of the ski slope

AN entrepreneur has extended an olive branch to villagers after causing anger by the way he revealed his plans for a £50m tourism and leisure complex in Northumberland.

Last month Chris Davies, boss of developer Active Leisure Resorts, unveiled ambitious proposals to create the 700-job holiday park on former opencast land near the village of Widdrington.

In a press statement he described the Active Lifestyle Resort as his brainchild, and said he had worked on it for eight years with his sons Ben and Greg.

Mr Davies referred to his vision to create a holiday site with a difference.

His comments were greeted with anger by Widdrington resident James Grant, and other members of the local Widdrington Regeneration Partnership (WRP).

For more than a decade, Mr Grant has been working on his personal vision of a multi-million-pound tourism and leisure complex capable of creating up to 1,000 jobs at Widdrington.

Inspired by the sloping mounds of local opencast coal sites, he devised the skiing-based Blue Sky Forest concept to regenerate an area locals felt had been badly blighted by decades of surface mining and the burning and burial of animal carcasses during the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Originally centred around creating Europe’s biggest indoor skiing centre, the complex was to include a lake for sailing, an off-road vehicle track, horse-riding trails, shops and extensive hotel and chalet accommodation for visitors.

Mr Grant set up the WRP to help drive the concept forward, and spent countless hours doing presentations on the ambitious project to councils, business people and decision-makers all over the North East.

WRP members were angered by Mr Davies’s comments about his Active Lifestyle Resort plan, which they felt had effectively hijacked their original concept and failed to give any recognition to the work they have put in over the last 10 years.

Now – at a one-to-one meeting with Mr Grant intended to clear the air – Mr Davies has apparently apologised for the choice of words used to launch his proposals, and said he hopes to work closely with locals to bring the project to fruition.

Mr Grant, a draftsman who has lived in Widdrington for many years, said: “I was absolutely livid at Chris Davies’s comments and thought they were disgraceful.

“As far as I was concerned it was plagiarism, because virtually everything in their project plan and press release was included in what I put to them in a presentation years ago.

“What annoys me is that I personally invited Chris Davies up here and did a presentation, in which I told him about all the things we wanted to do.

“All of these things have now appeared in his development proposal.

“This was not his vision, it was mine, but he seemed to be claiming the whole thing stems from him.

“I have now had a meeting with him and he said the words used in his press statement were most unfortunate, and apologised for them. He said the announcement was done at short notice.

“He also said he hopes we can work together to bring the project to reality. We have cleared the air and now the most important thing is to make the project work.

“I have been passionate about this vision of mine for 11 years and I am obviously pleased that a developer is now involved.

“What we need is more respect for the work the WRP has done so far, because without our involvement this project would probably have died years ago.”

The Active Leisure scheme announced last month proposes a short-break adventure park boasting a 50-acre lake, snow slopes, gorges and canyons, mountain bike trails, off-road vehicle courses and the country’s biggest tree house adventure playground.

Mr Davies said the resort will attract an estimated 300,000 day visits and 350,000 paid nights’ accommodation a year. He has declined to comment on the spat.

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