Tourism row as Northumberland blocked from Government cash bid

Northumberland as been told it will not create enough tourism jobs to justify a bid for Government cash

Polar Explorer Conrad Dickinson and Tony Gates, Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park Authority at Steel Rigg, Hadrian's Wall
Polar Explorer Conrad Dickinson and Tony Gates, Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park Authority at Steel Rigg, Hadrian's Wall

Tourism projects vital to Northumberland will be denied a chance to bid for Government cash.

Hopes of building on Northumberland’s tourist hotspot status were dashed when planners were told the latest Government advice was that new projects would not bring in enough jobs and so will not get any cash from a £2bn local growth fund.

Officials in Northumberland were told the news when they asked for £2m from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, the business-led group backed by Government tasked with co-ordinating job creation efforts. Cash would have gone towards The Sill project, a visitor centre which would have created more than 100 jobs.

The partnership told Northumberland the blame lay with the Government, saying cities minister Greg Clark made the blunt assessment of the likelihood of funding bids being successful when he met business and council leaders last week.

But last night the Cabinet office said it was “absolutely wrong” to rule out tourism projects, and insisted the North East could try for cash if it could prove that the tourism project would create jobs.

Tourism in Northumberland alone is said to support some 16,000 jobs, but, Northumberland County Council has been told, strict funding rules for the new cash pot will rule out supporting visitor centres, galleries or hotels. The snub has raised fears at County Hall that money handed to the region through the Local Growth Fund will almost entirely benefit urban Tyneside and Sunderland.

Architectural drawings of the proposed Inspiratiional Discovery Centre at Once Brewed
Architectural drawings of the proposed Inspiratiional Discovery Centre at Once Brewed
 

Liam Carr, Labour’s Hexham candidate and a Newcastle College lecturer, said: “This shows how out of touch the coalition is in the North East.

“To say that ‘tourism isn’t an economic priority’ downplays the significant role this sector plays in the wider Northumberland economy but especially in Tynedale. Last year it accounted for over £700m in the county economy and underpinned over 13,000 jobs. The Conservative-led coalition doesn’t understand our needs.”

The Sill project, based near Haydon Bridge, is for a discovery centre and office space bringing in an expected 100,000 visitors, with 15,000 expected to stay overnight.

The partnership’s tourism advice also raises question marks over further tourism cash for other Northumberland projects, including a share of the £7m needed to further develop Kielder Forest with a tree top walkway adventure centre and wildlife support.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “It is absolutely untrue to say that tourism projects are less likely be successful in bids for local growth deals.

“Any bid must be able to show good evidence of benefits for the local economy in terms of jobs and growth, and bids from the tourism industry will be considered on their individual merits alongside every other sector. It is for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership to decide what priority they give to the individual bids in the region, according to the evidence provided.”

A spokesman for the partnership said they were still finalising plans, adding that: “We have been advised that tourism and cultural projects are less likely to achieve these ambitious measures.

“This does not mean the end for the Sill or other projects which could not be prioritised at this time and we will be working with partners to identify alternative funding sources wherever possible.”

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