Plans for a flagship Landscape Discovery Centre and Youth Hostel in Northumberland National Park, have won the backing of Hexham MP, Guy Opperman.
Mr. Opperman this week visited Once Brewed, the current site of Northumberland National Park's Visitor Centre, which will become the location of the planned new Landscape Discovery Centre, to announce his support of the project. He met with representatives from The Sill project team from Northumberland National Park Authority and YHA (England and Wales) and Local Councillors, Cllr Alan Sharp and Cllr Val Gibson, to hear about the latest developments.
With the new Discovery Centre set to create up to 156 new jobs when it opens in 2016, rising to 173 per annum, attracting up to 120,000 visitors annually, local businesses in the region will benefit significantly from the investment. A recent Economic Impact study predicted that the creation of the site would also contribute up to £3.35 million to the local economy in its first year alone, rising to £3.68 million per annum by 2021/22.
Speaking about his support for the project, MP Guy Opperman, said: "The Sill is a truly exciting project that will really help put Northumberland on the map. I have studied the design and it is innovative and spectacular, including a grass covered roof which includes viewpoints looking out over the valley below.
"There are issues around traffic and access to be addressed but these can be solved. I have no hesitation in backing this huge investment in our local community, which will bring jobs in the short and long term.
"I have had a number of meetings to discuss the project and I am convinced we will see increased visitor numbers and a big boost to our local economy. This is a very exciting project for everyone here in Tynedale."
Chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority, John Riddle, said the new Landscape Discovery Centre would give the National Park and Northumberland a huge boost. He added: "We are delighted to receive the support and backing from Guy Opperman for this once-in-a-generation opportunity. Northumberland currently has the fewest number of visitors of any National Park in the country and as an area which boasts breathtaking natural landscapes and incredible opportunities, through The Sill we have a real chance to bring in a much greater volume of people to our region. The project is aiming to truly put Northumberland, one of Britain's best kept secrets, on the map and the creation of this new Landscape Discovery Centre is critical to the area. It quite literally will transform how people engage with, experience and learn about landscapes across the whole of Northumberland."
The Sill will become a valuable resource for the local community, acting as a gateway to Northumberland National Park, to encourage wider exploration and an exceptional visitor experience. Working together, and alongside local people and other partners, Northumberland National Park Authority and YHA are also developing an extensive learning and participation programme, which is already well underway.
Local Councillor Val Gibson, said: "I am particularly excited by the opportunities presented by proposals to develop a new Landscape Discovery Centre at the current Once Brewed site. I'm delighted that the local community has been given the opportunity to input their feedback and ideas into the new centre and activity programme – it's fantastic to see some wonderful ideas now coming to life."
The development phase of The Sill project has been made possible through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This funding has been critical in taking the vision forward on both the design for the new building and detailed pilot activity programme which outlines how the centre will inspire education and conservation activities across and beyond Northumberland National Park.
Ivor Crowther, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: "We at the Heritage Lottery Fund are delighted to be supporting the NNPA and YHA with this Transformational project which will stimulate people's interest in the diverse landscape of Northumberland National Park. The new Discovery Centre alongside the creative learning and volunteering programme will all add to providing a first-class visitor offer and create a much needed gateway into the Park, enabling people from near and far to better understand and appreciate our natural heritage."
Simon Ainley, Head of Capital Fundraising at YHA (England & Wales), said: "The Sill will offer an exceptional visitor experience and we're particularly excited by the wealth of opportunities that will be on offer to young people visiting the site. Through The Sill, we will be able to offer unique accommodation and hostel facilities, which encourage a deeper understanding and enjoyment of the countryside and natural landscape. It will also act as a shop window for local businesses and service providers, showcasing all that is on offer across the National Park. As the project progresses, we have had a high volume of interest from the community in connection with the opportunities on offer."
Local County Councillor and Sill Project Board member, Alan Sharp, commented: "Our public consultations and extensive planning have flagged the importance of highways management around the already busy and potentially dangerous fast traffic on the Military Road. Safety of visitors and school groups in particular is our key priority, I am pleased that we have moved swiftly to work jointly with Northumberland County Council to resolve existing traffic management issues in the wider area which quite frankly should have been addressed several years ago. To have the backing of our local MP in support of The Sill project is another great step forward."
Northumberland National Park Authority and YHA are seeking to secure an additional £3million in funding for the full project costs and to make their vision for The Sill a reality, the project needs your support.
You can support The Sill by volunteering, attending one of the project's consultation events or making a donation towards the £3million target.