PLANS for a multi-million pound eco-village have been approved. Supporters hope the project – comprising 65 homes, a hotel, spa and a cable car – will revive Eastgate, in Weardale, County Durham, which was left devastated by the closure of the Lafarge cement works in 2002.
The renewable energy village hopes to be the only place in the country to feature all five forms of land-based energy available in the UK – wind, solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal – to provide green and clean power.
A total of 118 letters of support and 112 objections were sent to Durham County Council over the plans, which could create 350 jobs.
Councillors on the planning committee went with recommendations from officers to approve the scheme, saying the proposals would help improve education, skills and job prospects for people in Weardale.
The plans will now be referred to Government Office North East for examination when a decision will be made whether to call in the councillors’ decision or refer it back to the County Council for full approval.
When the Lafarge cement works closed it took with it 147 jobs and left a £7m-a-year hole in the local economy.
The Weardale Task Force, comprising representatives from Durham County Council, Wear Valley District Council, One North East and Lafarge Cement UK, was set up to help the area recover.
It is likely the eco-village, dubbed by critics as eco-Disney, would take at least 10 years to get up and running.
Once complete, 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.
There will also be facilities for outdoor sports such as mountain biking and dry tobogganing.
Opponents of the scheme fear noise from sporting events and spectators, an “unbearable” increase in traffic, disruption to wildlife, and the creation of what they call a “theme park” in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
But supporters say it could attract thousands of visitors a year.
County councillor John Shuttleworth said: “It was said in the meeting – this is the only show on the road and we have got to get behind it. There have been all sorts of scatterbrained schemes down the years and I have been quite critical of the Weardale Task Force at times.
“But I have come to the conclusion that for the benefit of the whole of Weardale, this is what there is and we’ve just got to get on with it.”
Task force chairman John Hamilton said: “This decision is a major milestone for the regeneration of Weardale. This is a landmark moment and we are delighted.
“The plans will see around 150 new jobs created from business investment and a further 200 jobs within the visitor and hospitality sector to replace those lost when the cement works, the major employer in the Dale, closed in 2002.”