Northumberland County Council's £2m for Sill Centre could be better spent, locals say

Northumberland County Council's £2m for the Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre could be better spent, people in the area say

View from the north east showing first floor café with panoramic views
View from the north east showing first floor café with panoramic views

Business and residents living close to the site of a proposed £12.7m visitor attraction on Hadrian’s Wall have claimed a £2m council loan to the project could be better spent.

Local people have also voiced concerns that accommodation sites and pubs in the Twice Brewed area will lose business - up to £1.1m worth - and possibly even close if the Sill Landscape Discovery Centre is built, due to it taking their trade.

The council which is proposing the loan has defended its decision while the authority leading the project has cited the benefits it will bring to the area as a whole.

The Sill, a visitor and landscape discovery centre, is intended to replace the present Once Brewed centre on Hadrian’s Wall and is being developed by Northumberland National Park Authority in conjunction with the Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales).

The project, it is hoped, would create 120 jobs and generate £2.7m for the region’s economy each year.

Aerial view of Sill final design
Aerial view of Sill final design
 

A bid has been made for £7m to the Heritage Lottery Fund with a decision expected this month.

Northumberland County Council has agreed to give £1.5m loan and a £500,000 grant towards the £3m shortfall.

The partners aims to begin work in autumn 2015 with the centre opening in 2017.

However a group of businesses and residents in the Twice Brewed area have questioned the council’s decision to provide £2m to the project, claiming the authority has better things to spend such money on.

Group leader Brian Keen, landlord of the Twice Brewed Inn, said: “The fact that Northumberland faces cutbacks like everyone else then surely the money being given to Northumberland National Park could be of better use in every area of Northumberland, from care in the community, schools, emergency services and even potholes etc.”

The group meanwhile has voiced concerns that the Sill will hit local accommodation sites and pubs, and could mean some closing.

Members have pointed to national park claims that the centre will draw in 100,000 visitors a year, with half to be new and half “displaced” existing visitors to the area.

They refer to an economic impact assessment (EIA) for the project which states that visitor expenditure at the site “may be at the expense of other businesses or attractions.”

Based on estimates in the EIA of how much day visitors to the Sill are likely to spend, an average of £22 per day, they have calculated that businesses in the area could lose £1.1m if 50,000 - a figure members believe to be on the low side - are “displaced.”

The Sill - View from the south east showing the main visitor entrance
The Sill - View from the south east showing the main visitor entrance
 

This is without factoring in business they could lose from those staying at the Sill’s youth hostel overnight, with the EIA giving an average spend for such people of £43.49.

Members say no consideration has been given to potential loss of employment at local businesses.

Mr Keen, 67, and who has run the pub with wife Pauline, 61, since 2001, before which they had run a local youth hostel since 1977, said: “All areas of tourism will lose to The Sill. B&B, sites, catering and some retail.

“This is a pure commercial venture using public money to fund direct competition by Northumberland National Park.”

The county council defended its financial offer with leader Grant Davey saying: “This council is committed to promoting both economic growth and employment as well as the visitor economy across the whole of Northumberland and this project offers fantastic opportunities for the local area and the entire county.

“This funding could help create employment for over 100 local people in an area where new jobs are few and far between.”

Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council
Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council
 

A spokesperson for the park authority voiced its gratitude to the council and spoke of the benefits the project will bring to the wider area.

She said: “We welcome this significant level of support from Northumberland County Council and are delighted that the council as one of our key partners has recognised the positive economic benefits The Sill will bring to our region.

“Alongside our many partners, we have been working closely with a significant number of local businesses in the National Park and wider region on an ongoing basis, many of whom contributed to the findings of an independent Economic Impact Assessment Report on The Sill.

“The report predicted that once operational, The Sill will create over 100 new jobs per annum and anticipated the significant positive impact of the project on the wider area.

“It is expected that through The Sill, the 50,000 people who currently visit the YHA and National Park Centre will keep returning and stay longer, with the opportunity to visit all year round.

“Above and beyond this, it’s estimated The Sill will attract at least 50,000 new visitors who will explore Northumberland and beyond – supporting business growth and job creation for the local economy as a whole.

“The combined effect of these findings is a contribution of around £5m in visitor spending to the North East economy every year.

“The project will therefore grow visitors to the area not simply redistribute them.”

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