THE impact has been revealed of cuts and the recession on the North East’s finest landscapes. In December 2010, Northumberland National Park Authority was told by Defra its budget would be cut by 33% over four years. The tourism pull of the park in 2010 was worth £62m, with 1.35 million visitors.
But because of cutbacks, one in four of the park’s staff has now left and numbers arriving at its visitor centres have dropped by 26% compared to the previous five-year average.
Reports to the authority’s annual meeting next week say factors for the slide include poor summer weather last year, the economic downturn, lack of regional tourism marketing after the demise of regional development agency One NorthEast, and rising fuel prices which have made drivers think carefully about the length of trips.
Attempts to involve the private sector in running the park’s visitor centres at Rothbury and Ingram in the Breamish Valley have not been successful. The centres are likely to close at the end of the 2012-13 visitor season. A financial report to the park authority’s annual meeting says: “The authority has reacted effectively to achieve the savings required by the reduction in grant from Defra.”
But it adds: “The lack of alternative sources of income and few capital assets to draw income from does make Northumberland very susceptible to changes in Government funding.”
Park chief executive Tony Gates says in his performance review there has been a “significant drop in the level of activity the authority has been achieving over a number of years.” He adds: “It is clear the authority’s capacity to deliver has been significantly dented.
“It is now necessary to manage expectations. Staff morale has suffered. However, the way in which staff have, and are continuing, to cope in these difficult circumstances is humbling and a credit to the authority.”
Positives include the park and the YHA winning £399,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to work up plans in a bid for a £6m award towards The Sill visitor and landscape centre, plus new hostel, on the site of the Once Brewed centre on Hadrian’s Wall. Volunteering has risen by 31% and 72% of farmland in the park is now covered by agri-environment schemes which bring in £3.8m. A total of 22 historic monuments have been removed from the at risk list and 74% of rights of way are now easy to use. Surveys showed last year 69% of visitors rated their experience as exceptional.
Jude Leitch, tourism development manager for Northumberland Tourism, said: “Northumberland is really suffering from the recession and the lack of Government funding for tourism marketing since One North East closed.”
She said there was hope from a bid by VisitEngland for Government regional growth fund cash which could see around £200,000 for each of the next three years coming to Northumberland.