PLANNERS will next week recommend the approval of a multi-million pound “eco-village” which supporters hope will revive a stagnant rural economy.
Ever since the closure of the Lafarge cement works in Eastgate, Weardale, County Durham, in 2003 which left a £7m-a-year hole in the local economy and took 147 jobs, various ideas have been put forward to revive the dale.
Ideas of a Las Vegas-style casino and the suggestion that North East-born actor Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean character was used to promote the district in the South East Asian tourism markets, were met with disbelief.
They were submitted by consultants hired by the Weardale Task Force, which comprised representatives from Durham County Council, Wear Valley District Council, One North East and Lafarge Cement UK to assist the recovery of the economy.
Much more acceptable – to some locals at least – is the idea of an eco-village which could create 350 jobs.
The project, dubbed by critics as eco-Disney, will feature all five forms of land-based renewable energy available in the UK – wind, solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal.
A hotel and spa, 65 homes, and workshops are proposed along with outdoor sporting facilities such as mountain biking.
A cable car would link the eco-village to an area known as The Tops, where a complex including a cafe, viewing platforms and a bird watching centre are planned. Also included in the plan is a dry toboggan run.
A report to Durham County Council by case officer Sarah Eldridge recommends permission be granted when the scheme goes before the planning committee on Tuesday.
She said: “Over the past decade, Weardale has had to grapple with the after-effects of the foot-and-mouth epidemic and subsequently a series of closures of key employment sites.
“It is considered that the proposals have a direct positive contribution towards addressing the current education, skills and labour deficiencies that exist within Weardale and the wider county.”
The scheme has attracted 112 objections. These include the fear of noise from sporting events and spectators, an “unbearable” increase in traffic, fears of a disruption to wildlife, and the creation of a “theme park” in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
But local county councillor John Shuttleworth said: “This is the best offer we have on the table to create jobs. Without jobs you may as well shut down rural areas.”
The meeting takes place at County Hall, Durham at 2pm on Tuesday and is open to the public.