PLANS for a £50m adventure holiday park that would bring 700 jobs to an employment blackspot in the North East have been unveiled.
The proposals for a holiday complex at a former opencast site near Widdrington, Northumberland, come at a time when the nearby Alcan site – which was the county’s largest private sector employer – is closing down and there are more than 50 unemployed people for every job.
The resort would boast a four-star luxury holiday village, 100 camping pods, water park and spa, the UK’s largest tree house adventure playground, a fitness centre, 50-acre lake and 400 eco-lodge holiday homes.
Developers also want to create snow slopes, gorges and canyons, mountain bike trails and off-road vehicle courses alongside outdoor activities including fishing, horse riding and water sports.
The proposals would mark the fruition of the ambitious Blue Sky Forest project launched by local people more than a decade ago to regenerate the area.
Plans for the initial phase will be submitted to Northumberland County Council in the next few weeks with the full planning application to follow next year.
Launching the scheme yesterday, Chris Davies, chief executive of developers Active Leisure Resorts, said: “This is a unique concept, there is nothing like it in Europe. When it is a success I hope to replicate it across the UK and take it to Europe.
“Active Leisure Resorts represents a real and viable opportunity to play a major role in the regeneration of rural Northumberland. This scheme will not only totally revitalise the site but also the minds of the community for which it serves.
“As well as significant economic and social benefits, it will bring an iconic leisure and tourism presence to Northumberland of which everyone will be justifiably proud.”
The project would be a partnership between Active Leisure Resorts, Harworth Estates and landowners UK Coal.
It is estimated the “active lifestyle resort” could draw in up to 300,000 day visits and 350,000 paid nights a year once it opens.
Andrew Mackintosh, UK Coal’s director of communications, said: “We have got 2,500 acres on this site. Part will be wind turbines, 800 acres will be the resort and then going forward we will be looking at other leisure possibilities to run alongside it.
“Our other sites across the UK have been used for industry and housing but this is a first for us. It’s the first major leisure plans for a UK Coal site. With any site we assess the needs in the area and here in Northumberland it needs jobs – permanent jobs not dependent on the summer season – and visitors who can bring money into the area.”
Joe Sennett, chairman of the Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council and a member of the Blue Sky Forest consortium, said: “I have been involved with Blue Sky for nearly 11 years now and we are very much behind it, and it’s good to see it getting off the ground.
“In total when the whole site is developed we’ve always said we see it having the potential to create in excess of 1,000 jobs.
“All going well we hope to see things up and on the site by 2014 but it will be a 10-year plan before it really gets cracking.”
But Dale Page, chairman of the Widdrington Parish Council, said feelings towards the plans are mixed.
He told The Journal: “There is a lot of positive feeling about the number of jobs if that is the true number and it hasn’t been inflated to make the development appear more attractive.
“However, there is some concern about the large areas to be paved over for car parks which are close to people’s properties as well as issues with noise and light which will have to be sorted out.
“Another issue is which route any additional visitor traffic would use as the A189 Spine Road already seems dangerous in places. We are a small parish of 89 properties and at the moment when you step outside at night all you can hear is the sea and that this may change for people is an issue.”
Two public consultation events to discuss the early stage plans ahead of any planning applications being submitted will be held at Chevington Community Centre in Hadston, between 10am and 3pm on December 1 and 2.